Coaching Whiners

(c) 2009 Steven M. Smith

Ban whining. It’s destructive communication inside organizations.

Why is whining destructive? How can a whiny complaint be transformed into a constructive, actionable proposal?

You ask Anthony, who reports to you, “How are things going?”

Anthony unloads on you like a dump truck unloading fertilizer, “I’m sick and tired of the mandatory meetings that your management is forcing me to attend. Management schedules these meetings at the last minute, which forces me to reschedule conflicting appointments and meetings. I’m losing credibility. And I’m pissed off about the poor organization of the mandatory meetings. I sit and listen to things that don’t matter to me. Attending these meetings wastes my time. Will this stupidity ever stop?”

Please, whatever you do, don’t say, “I’ll see what I can do about the problem.”

Utter those words and you take ownership of the problem. Anthony will rightly expect that you will do something about his problem. You are setting both Anthony and yourself up for disappointment.

When you accept responsibility for the complaint embedded in the whining, you add to your own burden; you make communication indirect; and you fail to train your people effectively.

Step back. Do you know what will satisfy Anthony? You can’t. I haven’t given you enough information to know. If you think you already know the problem and its solution, then you are assuming too much.

By unloading on you, Anthony may already be satisfied. Ask him, “What would you like me to do?”

You may be surprised to hear Anthony say, “Nothing. I know your management. That’s the way they do business. You can’t do anything.”

But if Anthony says, “I want you to talk with your management about the problem.”

Start training Anthony by replying, “Tell me the problem.”

“I thought I already told you the problem.” says Anthony.

“No. I heard a lot of things, but I didn’t hear a clear problem statement.”

Antony looks down at your desk as he ponders your statement.

“Uh…” sputters out of his mouth. “Uh… Scheduling mandatory meetings at the last minute isn’t fair?”

You ask, “What’s the impact on you of scheduling meetings at the last minute.”

“I have to reschedule other meetings and appointments at the last minute.” answers Anthony.

You ask, “What’s the impact of these scheduling changes to the business?”

“Some of the meetings I have to reschedule are with clients and some of them don’t like last minute changes.” replies Anthony.

You verify the problem by saying, “So I gather the problem is that last minute mandatory meetings are hurting relationships with our clients.” And you ask, “Is that close?”

Anthony looks you in the eye and says, “I know where you are going… That definition is close enough.”

Continue coaching by asking, “What do you recommend that my management do?”

Anthony continues looking you in the eyes as he replies, “I realize your management will need a few emergency meetings so I recommend that 90% of all mandatory meetings be scheduled at least one week in advance.”

“Sounds good. Email me the complaint and recommendation so I can forward it to my management?”

“My name will be on the message?” asks Anthony.

“Yes, of course, it’s your problem. Right?”

“Let me think about it. I’ll get back to you.”

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So how do we handle whiners that whine to everyone about how “we should do it this way”? Especially when the “whiner’s way” is either not practical, or the rest of the team disagrees with the “whiner’s way”?

Hi Ted,

Let’s call the whiner London.

A team benefits from London or anyone other teammate having the right to propose an idea and for the members of the team to make a decision about it. See my article Decide As a Team for more info.

The key is for the members of the team to honestly listen to a proposal and make a decision on it.

Once the decision is made, if London brings it up again to either an individual member or the team as a whole, he will hear words like these, “No. We (the team) decided against that idea.

Listening and deciding isn’t enough, the team has to back up it’s decision by saying “No.” to whiners.

Thank you for the question,

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