One Question for All Complainers and Critics


Get out of leadership if criticism and complaints keep you up at night. You’ll die from lack of sleep.

The toughest criticism to handle is directed at a team mate or colleague, not you. Some “loving” critic shares a “helpful” suggestion that tears down, points out inadequacy, or undermines credibility.

Complainers, on the other hand, are different from critics. Complainers say, “Your team leader hurt my feelings,” for example. They don’t say it directly but, in the end, complainers aren’t getting what they feel they deserve. They want something for themselves. (They may be on target.)

Critics focus on others. Complainers focus on themselves.

The hardest part of criticisms
and complaints is the 10% that’s right.


Define the win.

Avoid every activity that doesn’t have clearly defined and agreed upon wins. Ambiguous outcomes never satisfy. Watch for that bad taste or rotten smell that saturates winless activities.

All wins always propel
people and organizations forward.

All wins always have
behavioral – visible – expressions. You see them.

Criticisms and complaints spiral downward until progress is defined.


Never affirm speculations about bad motives.

Some complainers love explaining the bad motives and intentions of others. Immediately reject hints and innuendos that your colleague intentionally harmed others. The moment you hear, “They did that because (fill in malicious intention),” know you’re dealing with an ass.

Step back and watch a line in the sand appear at the hint a member of my team has malevolent motives.


Courageously build human environments that make room for imperfection. People have frailties and inadequacies; they screw up.

Progress is a win in human organizations;
perfection a myth.

Close the doors and go home if perfection is the goal.


Answer criticisms and complaints about colleagues and teammates with,

“How can I help you with this?”

Asking this question:

  1. Takes people seriously.
  2. Searches for wins.
  3. Expresses compassion.
  4. Assigns responsibility.

How can leaders respond when they receive complaints or criticisms of teammates or colleagues?

Next week’s best leadership development opportunity is a free conference call with bestselling author, Doug Conant. Join me on March 27 at 1:00 p.m. EST.

Conference call with Doug Conant