Are you the problem?

Categories: Behavior change, LeadershipAuthor:

A survey conducted by Development Dimensions International (DDI) found that employees spend, on average, 10 hours per month complaining about their boss or listening to others complain about their boss (Survey). About one third of the respondents spent more than 20 hours per month doing so. I know, many of you are thinking that there is no way your employees do this, but the law of averages suggests otherwise! It’s best to assume this is the case and act accordingly rather than ignore it.

In a previous blog post, I suggested that bosses should listen to employee complaints and act on them. This would likely reduce complaining overall, because there would be less to complain about. Still, the blame doesn’t fall squarely on the boss, employees could do some things differently, too, and it’s worth spending some time talking about it. Often times, bosses would do some things differently, if they only knew how their employees felt.

I used to be a pretty average complainer, or if I am honest, maybe I was slightly above average (in a bad way) with complaining. In graduate school, griping about classes, students, and how busy you were seemed like a badge of honor.

At some point during my journey of really learning behavioral science, I realized that every time I complained without first attempting to create a change, I wasn’t honoring myself; instead, I was admitting that I was terrible at influencing behavior. Who was I to expect others to follow my advice about how to improve the environment and influence people if I didn’t!

After this epiphany, every frustrating situation was a trigger for me to try something different to influence behavior. At first, I stopped after one or two attempts but I soon realized that the possibilities of things I could try to change the situation were endless … and some of them were even kind of fun. Once, I pulled out a voice recorder and turned it on in the middle or a coworker’s rant. You can imagine that his tone changed right away.

This is not to say that I never tell others about situations that frustrate me. But now, when I do talk to others about frustrating situations, it is usually to seek out some ideas of things I could try. It’s more about my behavior than someone else’s.

I recently had a manager I was coaching tell me that he couldn’t rely on his employees because none of them had any follow through. What are the chances that the organization hired six people with advanced degrees, great work histories, and zero follow through? What was the real problem?

It’s easy to paint yourself as a victim. It is much harder to view yourself as a bigger and bigger contributor to the problem when you let it go on without saying or doing anything different.

2 Responses to Are you the problem?

  1. David Wiss says:

    Nicole, this is a blog that I will be sharing with my fellow complainers.

    I think the survey it is on target. I have been working out of a cubical for a while and I over hear complaining on a daily bases. 10 hours is valid.

    The interesting part is that the complaints are generally followed up with solutions by the complainer that would make the thing they are complaining about become better. But the complainer is not about to share those solutions. Instead the complainer is very willing to come back the next day to start the complaining cycle all over again, on the same complaint.

    What an interesting behavior. I will complain then produce a solution that will not be shared for the good of the complaint. Then somehow I will get reinforced from these actions to repeat the process. Mercy!

    Reply
  2. Teddie Malangwasira says:

    Nicole,
    You raised a good point about complainers in any organizations. I like the point that it is harder for one to see themselves as being part of the problem. From the leadership standpoint., I believe it is the dyadic relationship between a leader and followers that would help solve the issue. Good relationship will lead to high levels of trust. Thereby helping members to be open to one another and share information that would lead to positve outcomes rather than complaining at all times. However, sometimes it may be hard to achieve these higher levels of trust due to diferences in demogrphic characteristics eg age, tenure, education qualification, and gender. Good article!

    Reply

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