We’ve all heard it… colleagues spending countless hours whining and whinging about the things other people/management do/don’t do/should do/could do…
It’s exhausting to listen to and it’s unproductive. These conversations are often petty and destabilising to management and teams. Endless gossipy conversations within a team reflect a negative workplace culture and diminish the capacity of the team to be effective.
And yet, so often, management tolerate the petty infighting, the moaning and groaning. They accept it as part of normal office culture. Some managers that I have worked have tried to sort out the problems by asking for “honest” feedback in the hope that they will get to the bottom of the problem, and then are surprised when no-one speaks up.
Employees are not going to “dob in” their boss or their colleagues to the boss. Nor are they going to be the one that rocks the boat; that takes responsibility for the unhappy culture of the organisation. That’s way too risky. There is a risk that if you speak up, you will then become the target of the criticism – so it’s just not going to happen.
So how do leaders/managers create a culture where people stop complaining?
- Call it out. If someone complains, ask them what are you going to do about the problem? As an individual in a workplace you don’t have to take on the problems of others. However you will be part of the problem if you listen to people complain and whinge and don’t encourage real action about the complaint.
- Increase the opportunities for staff to raise issues. Hold regular staff meetings and other touch point meetings and encourage staff to talk about what is working well and what can be done better. Be open to suggestions for improvement; make it safe for staff to speak up.
- Focus on the great work your organisation does. If you believe in what you do then sell it. Lots of workplaces are doing great work; but the work itself is hard. Don’t focus on how hard the work is or the problems that arise from time to time; focus on the value of the work you do for the greater good of society.
- Encourage staff to address problems immediately. Practice speaking up; provide training on assertiveness and conflict management techniques; make it ordinary and safe to have a critical conversation.
- Empower staff to problem solve. Give them the tools, space and trust to resolve issues. A lot of management time can be taken up resolving internal staff disputes. Trust them, as adults, to resolve these issues themselves. Don’t try and fix everything immediately; let the staff members attempt to resolve it themselves and support them to do that.
- Celebrate successes regularly. That way you focus on the good stuff; and stop sweating the small stuff.
- Check in at the end of every week. What worked well this week? What could we improve? Language is important. If you start the conversation with “what went wrong” this week, the tone of the conversation will deteriorate into negative territory.
If you want a positive work environment – create it.