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Coach's Corner--April 7, 2008

Constant carping can be turned into positive interaction

The Client
Name: Ted
Age: 50
Title: Production manager
Time at company:  23 (five in current role)
Industry: Manufacturing
Issue: Turning complaints into solutions
Q. One of my team members often comes into my office with complaints about other team members, the way we do things, just about anything. His opinions don’t seem broadly held, but he does bring down morale. How can I turn him into a source of solutions?

A. Constant complaints eat a lot of energy, for both complainer and listener. They also create a negative environment that can affect everyone. However, with planning, most people can be turned around to become constructive team members.

The inner game
If this is a long-standing dynamic, you may have some baggage of your own. So, look at how you’re feeling about him. If your attitude is negative, start by turning that around. Focus on perceiving him as being capable of a positive approach and having valuable input. Retrain your thinking by creating an image of the ideal interaction, and visualize ways to achieve a positive outcome.

It is vital that you believe that the interaction can be positive; otherwise, your efforts will be insincere, and this will derail the transformation. Also, be sure that you aren’t encouraging negativity by having it be the only way to get your attention.

The outer game
You may not know what the next complaints will be, but you can develop a plan. Your main tool will be a three-part conversation planner that’ll help keep the discussion on track.

Part 1: Give him responsibility for solutions. First, acknowledge his concerns, while directing the conversation to the importance of solving the problems instead of just venting. Then, ask for his ideas on solutions. It is very important that the solutions come from him, not from you. If you solve his problem, you only build his dependency. Ideally, you want to create an environment where people always offer ideas for solutions whenever they bring forward a problem.

Part 2: Make it safe to offer new ideas. Being asked for solutions may be a surprising and difficult situation, so do all you can to reduce his anxiety. He may get stuck and not be able to get started with generating ideas. If he says he doesn’t know what to do, try asking him, “If you did know, what would you do?” This odd-sounding question often gets a laugh first, followed by some tentative thoughts and ideas. Once the logjam is broken and he gets started, he’ll have a rich base to build on.

Part 3: Reward change. Your response can make or break the change. Notice every positive step he takes, whether it is a solution, openness to a different perspective, or a more constructive behavior. Avoid the temptation to notice any lapses; this change will take time and will likely include some slips.Consistency is key. Be sure that you use this approach every time to promote lasting change.

The last word
Negativity is contagious, so it’s important to turn it around. With planning and follow-through, you’ll be able to create a culture where positive attitudes are rewarded and people can flourish.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted April 7, 2008
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