When we at Knightsbridge conduct a Vital Teams intervention™ with our clients, we pair a group dynamics expert with an expert in individual behavior. This tag team approach moves teams ahead by eliciting more effective behavior from each team member and by improving the interaction among team members. You get to hear my group psychology perspective all the time, so today I’ve asked my colleague Ren Wiebe to share some insights he gets from providing one-on-one coaching to team members. Enjoy this guest post.
We have all worked with that teammate who feels like a wet-blanket. Too often they are complaining that the sky is falling! Yes, it might be true that our lame project management process led to that last minute crisis, but do they have to rub salt by bringing up that painful memory. Let’s just move on and hope we’ve learned from it.
Over time, we tend to ignore the complainer – in large part because they aren’t a ton of fun to be around. They poke at raw wounds by complaining about what isn’t working. In meetings we start to roll our eyes and think “here we go again” when they open their mouth. And guess what – just because you don’t say it out loud, you aren’t hiding your contempt—it will show in your body language even if you keep your mouth shut. As they notice dismissiveness from teammates they tend to become even more shrill.
Well, maybe it’s time for each of us to learn better how to celebrate and embrace the complainer. While complainers can be a major drag on team morale, they are often bringing forward issues that really do need to be addressed. The problem is that we start to devalue what they say because of how they say it and how often they are on the soapbox.
What the complainer often needs most is an acknowledgement that their ideas have merit and a chance to do something productive about it. They need permission to take ownership for tackling the complaint. Here are some simple ways that you can make the complainer be heard, feel valued and do something of value:
- Listen better when they open their mouth! Make it a personal goal to look for that time when you agree with their complaint about what isn’t working. This will take effort because of how little we all enjoy being wrapped in a wet blanket.
- When you hear something you agree with, push yourself to agree publicly and to name the impact the issue is having on team results. The complainer surely feels lonely a lot of the time and will be shocked that they aren’t standing alone on at least one issue.
- Get them talking about what a better future might look like. Get them to describe how things would be better if the project management process was improved. Draw them out; get them to paint a picture …. and help them when their brush runs dry. Remember, they won’t be used to talking about the preferred future.
- Ask about their willingness to tackle the issue. Ask about the resources it would take to make it happen. If they haven’t got a ready answer encourage them to think about it and bring forward a recommended approach. Better yet, offer to help if they want your support.
Some complainers won’t step up to the challenge, but many will! They just need a sign that they aren’t alone, and the permission to do something about it. Help them add MORE value than just pointing out what’s wrong. Soon the complainer will become the contributor.