May 26, 2012

Conquering Complainers

“Complainers change their complaints, but they never reduce the amount of time spent in complaining.” – Mason Cooley.

Complainers and critics will always whine and complain – no matter how well you lead! Complainers feel they are called to their “profession”.  They seem to only see the few things that are not going well while missing the many things that are.  In conversing with critics they have this strange sense of calling to: help the world see what’s wrong – to address the things that must be fixed! Sounds noble but is it?  

Don’t get me wrong: constructive criticism is helpful – if it is constructive. The challenge with complainers and critics is: they’re really not concerned about the safety and betterment of mankind – they just want things to go their way.  And they are usually are not very nice about it – I know that’s an understatement. 

So how do we lead with excellence with complainers and critics following us around? Here’s a highly effective way to lead well and silence the complainers and critics.

Recognize the minority: Unless you’re practicing gross negligence in your leadership – your critics are usually just a few people.  They seem like a lot of people because they are loud.  Depending upon their level of expertise they are usually mobilized and use effective tactics like gossip, e-mails, letters and social media to – “get their point across”. I used to keep a file of my complainers and critics correspondence. After I scanned their “messaging” to see if there was any valuable information – I filed it in a special file – in case I needed it to confront them later.  Once the critics were confronted or confused by my lack of attention paid to them – I purged the file.  This is a critical first step but it’s not enough. The second and third steps are also important.  

Address the majority: The real secret to conquering the complainers is to always address the majority. Let me explain. Our leadership is made up of three types of people: the dedicated, the supportive and the complainers/critics. If we focus all our planning, decisions and communication towards the “dedicated” and “supporters” we win and our complainers are silenced. We deny them the ability to have a presence – so they have no influence. If we let the complainers and critics get our attention and we try to address them, especially in public – we lose.  

Divide and conquer: The last step is to reach across the room and invite your top critics to coffee. I do recommend meeting one at a time with your top complainers and critics to listen, learn and influence them. Many critics can be won over with some focused dialog. It also is a good idea to have another person with you who will stay more of a neutral party but encourage the complainer or critic to move to a position of supporting leadership and the mission of the organization. The key here is to not react, but build a bridge: listen, learn and build friendship but do not compromise your position.  People who like to complain and criticize respect people who stand up to them and stay consistent. 

The last necessary ingredient in conquering complainers and critics is courage. If you take a stand and follow the advice as outlined in this post you will rise above the roar of criticism.  

To your excellence,

Coach Greg