One of the worst ways to fight conflict in an organization is to proclaim, “No complaining allowed.”
As much as you try to shut down complainers, you’ll wind up driving discontent underground. Restive employees’ performance will sink and simmering rumors and resentments will fly.
“Discouraging employees from voicing their concerns and complaints can be perceived by them as a dangerous thing,” says Jamie Showkeir, a partner at Henning-Showkeir & Associates, a consulting firm in Phoenix. He urges managers to listen to complainers without necessarily sympathizing or agreeing with them.
Whenever possible, speak to complainers in private. You don’t want their gripes to infect their co-workers.
As you listen, maintain a neutral facial expression. Don’t shake your head in disgust or interrupt to challenge the basis of their negativity. And don’t feel obliged to evaluate the validity of the complaint.
“Let people work through their issues and then move on,” says Showkeir, co-author of Authentic Conversations. “You don’t have to act on every complaint. Just listening goes a long way.”
You already know to ask complainers to offer solutions to the problems they face. But go a step further: Ask what steps they’ve taken to address the issue thus far, the results they’ve found and what they’ve learned from each potential solution.
If the complaint focuses on a peer’s behavior, don’t get drawn into playing referee. Instead, help the grumbling employee develop strategies to get along. Emphasize that it’s up to the individual to work with everyone on the team.
Finally, end on a positive note. Confirm that the employee knows what actions to take to rectify the situation.