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:
- Takes people seriously.
- Searches for wins.
- Expresses compassion.
- 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.
Good post Dan.
The leaders job when getting complaints and criticisms is to investigate them. Seek out the truth of the situation before you seek out who to blame. Once you know the truth you can make an intelligent response or form a plan of correction.
But for chronic complainers, after you have tried to define the win, and made some runs at bringing them into the fold, if this fails, then you must devise a way to protect the rest of the team from getting “infected.” And that’s a different road and end-game.
Thank you Martina.
Love your focus on seeking the truth.
Your final paragraph opens a whole new dimension to this post. Wow!
Thanks Martina, for your post. In fact, I just saw “infection” in action during a meeting recently. The leader of this team chronically complains about company and employee philosophies that he doesn’t agree with. Guess what? That’s infected his team. It’s an almost visible process – watching this spread. Infection is a very apt word.
Unless the company you work for is a total nightmare – then Get Out! Sometimes complainers and critics are created by their own fear of moving on. They put up with terrible management, ambiguous leadership and ever changing goal lines until one day they snap. How to define whether one is just a complainer OR stuck complaining because of fear is another matter.
Thank you Stuart.
Love your question at the end. There is a deep streak of dissatisfaction running down the back of all leaders. They may sound like complainers…but actually they are pursuing better. I wonder if the pursuit of better isn’t part of the answer?
As Bob Proctor says: ‘Always be happy, never satisfied.’ Meaning that dissatisfaction is the driving force behind progress. But my deeper point was how does a leader identify complainers v. those that are simply dissatisfied, and indeed, how does one identify which of those in each of us is ourselves?
Now you gone from commenting to meddling.. .:-) thanks for follow up.
BTW: Love the quote.
Excellent post, Dan. I always appreciate your direct and ‘say it like it is’ approach.
I’d like to add that, in my experience, I’ve found some individuals who want their comment to have a positive spin cloak their complaint by calling it ‘feedback.’ “Let me offer you some feedback on …” and then they head full on into a complaint.
Feedback is real and useful, but the term gets hijacked and manipulated to cover something negative and unhelpful.
Thank you Laurie.
Great add! Love the addition of feedback to this conversation. Perhaps “helpful” is the distinguisher between complaining and feedback. I also like the idea that feedback is forward facing. Complaining looks backward and drags backward as well.
Morning Dan, I don’t worry so much about what other people think of me, what do they know? Plus in reality they are spending 95% of their time thinking about themselves not me! Silly me with the egomania and the inferiority complex I am blessed with I constantly get to thinking it is all about me!!!!!!! Silly me!!!!!!!!!
I use the wisdom of The Serenity Prayer and concentrate on my favorite subject, ME and change what I can, ME when the need be!
I work at relentless listening because with all this in here there is bound to be a pony in here somewhere! In other words a person might be bringing something up that does actually stink, not just flapping their gums. I need to listen and determine which it is.
Ok back to the salt mine for me, lots to do, lots do do!
Have a good one my friend!
Thank you Scott.
The partial rightness of critics is what I find most troubling. If they were ALL wrong I could just write them off.
Love the focus of worry about ourselves. I still grapple with responding to those who criticize, not me, but someone on my team.
A lot of James Altucher’s stuf influences me and he’s very big on getting away from gossipping and criticizing others. I realized he’s rubbed off on me so much that I often find myself uncomfortable when others do this to people.
I think as leaders, we can respond by actively discouraging it or using your body language to indicate we aren’t comfortable with this sort of treatment of others. Don’t be passive aggressive, but make it a point that these things aren’t what you are about and you don’t approve.
Thank you Vincent.
I’ve seen people who encourage and affirm critics. Guess what they get? MORE critics and complainers. There’s a place where discouraging critics is appropriate. It’s finding the balance that gives me fits. I’m an all or nothing type.
There are just SO many spins here. For me, “constructive criticism” is an oxymoron but it IS a great framework for people who want to consistently point out the negatives — sometimes, people really are trying to help and sometimes it is just for their own personal benefit.
IF there is a team, or a history of focus on continuous continuous improvement AND the sincerity and support and all that exist, than some criticism is certainly warranted and even necessary to keep the energy focused on generating “considered alternatives” for things to do differently.
Example: I play pool a lot, and my style is pretty conservatives. I surprise people sometimes when I will play a “safety” and not make a shot simply to mess up the other player’s strategy or to get an advantage. Some people shoot “offensively all the time” while I have a more structured and defensive approach.
We play every week in two leagues and often, after games and sometimes after shots, we will talk about what we did and why we did it. We might suggest a different approach as to “ball shot pattern” or suggest a different way to shoot so as not to “sell out and give the game away” in the case of a miss.
As a result, we all get constantly better and we all get insights into alternatives that might be considered the next time a similar situation comes up. People do NOT like to play us because we seldom give up games — they have to play quite well to beat us. Last night, our team won 19 of the 25 games we played — that is a pretty consistent result.
Our “criticism” simply improves the whole knowledge base. It is not second-guessing — it is coaching and contribution because we all take it that way.
Complaining, of course, is a whole different matter…
Thank you Scott. Love the illustration and the encouragement. There’s a real positive feel to your approach.
You’re so good at saying a lot with few words. 🙂
I find criticism does not have power of itself to cut a groove. To feel pain from criticism, you have to already have cut the groove (yourself) into which the criticism fits.
If you have cut your own groove, or are feeling unworthy, or feeling that you have to prove your worthiness, then even criticism delivered lovingly, or in a direct and positive way in a spirit of improvement will “hurt” or feel diminishing.
If you are feeling worthy, empowered, and valuable, then the most cutting criticism is either useful, or like water off a duck.
Leaders who embody quiet confidence, and high worthiness (not egotism, hubris, or posturing) and see others has just as worthy, will more easily create a culture of handling criticism for what is: simply information we can use or discard as fits our journey. Such leaders will use positive coaching far more often than criticism.
“I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.”
All the best,
Thanks for the good word Mark. I appreciate it.
Love the idea that worthiness comes into play. I find when I feel unworthy, or needing approval from others I get defensive when criticized.
Perhaps one way to deal with others on the team being criticized is being sure others feel our approval. Powerful.
I’ve only been in charge of my team for six months, and while I have received complaints, I haven’t had to deal with ciriticism yet. When one of my folks complain I invite them to tell me all about whatever is bothering them. Once they finish, I restate their complaint as I understand it and ask if my understanding of the problem is correct. Initially I would work on solving the issue, but now that I have gained some trust I am asking for their suggestions for fixing the problem as well. We’re still working on becoming the team we’re capable of being, but at least now we’re moving in the right direction.
Thank you Kathy. I loved reading your comment it seems so healthy and helpful.
Dan et al.,
As a sidebar to the criticism stuff and just a little offline, I wrote this up in a draft blog about performance last night, that I will probably publish on Monday.
Basically, it says that people are best managed when they hear both rewarding positive performance-related feedback as well as get some good, corrective criticism:
“In a recent study about performance and motivation, researchers looked at the effectiveness of using positive recognition and criticism as effective tools for managing people. Which is better? Well, BOTH, actually. The highest-performing teams got about 6 positive comments for each negative one (5.6:1) while the middle performing ones got two positives for each negative (1.9:1). The poor performers got three negatives for each positive (0.36 :1),
The data, as constructed in the studies, clearly supports the idea that a higher ration of positive comments to criticism supports high performance — a realistic level of positives that is not fake or false — and that negative rations will generate low performance (and probably low morale and high turnover) among people in the workplace. Managers who share more positive performance-related feedback also generate higher ratings on 360 degree feedback — they are perceived as more effective managers.”
There are obviously concepts about how the feedback is constructed and delivered, like positive public and negative private and stuff like that.
I always see complaints as performance improvement opportunities and would rather have people expressing themselves (with ideas for solving the problem) instead of dis-engaging or sabotaging one’s efforts.
Thank you Dr. Scott.
I’ve long been fascinated by the healthy ration of pos. to corrective feedback. Whatever the ration, many of us fall far short on the positive. In the end, we inadvertently build negative environements.
The idea that negative or corrective feedback is essential for high performance shouldn’t be lost either. Don’t avoid the tough conversations.
Love the AND. Cheers
It helps to find recognize that while criticism or critiques may contain useful information, they always say more about the person who it’s coming from.
Once you recognize that it can help you consider it in more productive way.
Thanks for adding this idea. It’s absolutely true. Critics say more about themselves than others.
The “good” critic who passionately pursues organizational mission is a great example of someone with admirable intentions.
Reblogged this on africasiaeuro and commented:
This is exceptional stuff
Having a conversation about how to send (and receive) criticism before starting a critique process might be a good pre-step….how to frame it, when to present it, and to go full cycle— how to respond to it and of course get feedback (criticism) on your criticism technique might be helpful too.
Timing is definitely important. If you have a sense of urgency to critique that may color when to present it, check your motives and try to ensure that there is a true urgency.
As always, if it can be done with unconditional positive regard, that helps too. A variation on the golden rule might apply too…
Oooooo… Lets agree on how we deal with and express criticism before it happens. Powerful. That’s creating an environment.
Setting those kinds of expectations is very useful and helps put some oil on the waters. At the same time, more workgroups need to improve the overall quality of their feedback systems themselves so that they provide more accurate, timely and effective self-assessment possibilities. Most company feedback measure one thing and expect another — they want speed in handling complaints but do not balance that with rapport and resolution.
Feedback is the breakfast of champions. Champions understand that feedback help provide for opportunities for SELF-correction. We also need a basket of requisite variety — of considered alternatives from which to select different approaches. That only comes from feedback; self-generation is nearly impossible.
I tell a story-joke about caterpillars and a butterfly. Invariably, once people “get” The Answer, they stop thinking about it. I have 22 punchlines to that joke!
Human performance optimization sure is an interesting concept with lots of dependent and independent variables to play with.
I like that you wrote “OPPORTUNITIES” [my caps] for self-correction. To me, feedback is just *information*. Whether it is actually used for “self-correction” or not can depend on where WE want to go. In my workshops, I find a surprising percentage of people who:
A) aren’t all the clear enough on where they want to go;
B) by default, are therefore (IMHO) far too dependent on both direction from, and approval of, others.
My point? Feedback is best handled when we are internally prepared to put it into context with OUR desired direction, and what is in our highest interest over time (and the latter will of course include the wellbeing of our fellow co-creators).
This in response to Mark’s comments — my screen narrows down and not sure where this will be posted up.
I’ve always taken a “performance management” approach to performance, where responses that are rewarded get repeated and that behavior is driven by the balance of consequences. EARLY in my consulting (1970s), I thought that it was the external rewards that were important.
But continued work in the field showed again and again that it was simply the feedback that was critical for us humans — we tended to operate differently than most other animal species. As thinking, social creatures, we can take feedback and quickly integrate it into all of our social rewards systems and use it for intrinsic motivation.
Feedback is a simple, but complicated concept. Organizations provide feedback to their workers and managers but it is generally ineffective in controlling behavior (using “control” very loosely here).
Organizational measures are like learning to play the piano when the notes you hear occur 8 seconds after striking a key. It is HARD or impossible to learn effectively. You perform a task and hear about the results a week or two later. That is NOT going to influence performance.
I blog about this and offer a simple Feedback Analysis checklist at http://performancemanagementcompanyblog.com/2011/12/05/motivation-it-is-feedback-not-extrinsic-motivators-the-drive-performance/
There are all sorts of feedback things operating. Immediate, specific, positive feedback is a lot more effective than delayed, general and negative stuff.
And managing itself is a LOT better than hoping someone else will even be paying attention. Extrinsic rewards can be nice, but it is the intrinsic motivation that drives sustained excellence and continuous continuous improvement.
I need to bookmark this for the next time I hold office or spear-head a volunteer project. I’d require all my board members and leaders to read it. The distinction between complaints and critiques is an important one. And I absolutely love, “How can I help you with this?”
Too often in volunteer organizations and projects, professionalism is forgotten (because it’s not “work”) and feelings are worn on every sleeve. It’s especially true when everyone is passionate about the same cause, but may have different ideas about how things should be done. There’s rarely, if ever, any malicious intent, but volunteers can take things so very personally. And then leaders take it personally too. A lifetime of service has taught me not to look at input as unwanted complaining each time. It may be uncomfortable, but I must step back and look at it. An organization is not too unlike the human body. When a pain makes itself known, it’s trying to get your attention and tell you something. Even referred pain will lead you somewhere if you listen. Same with any organism.
Thank you Julia.
So glad you brought the volunteer context to the conversation.
I started thinking about the importance of keeping mission and vision in the forefront as another tool to deal with this. How does the criticism advance the agenda.
Exactly. When I have to bring people back together after a high-strung situation, it’s all about bringing everyone’s focus back to: why are we here, what’s our mission and use reason and logic to pull people back together. In a regular work environment, our roles, expertise and the pecking order is usually fairly clear. In a volunteer organization, people come from all walks of life and levels of expertise. The 3rd level manager at work may be reporting to a stay-at-home mom who has more experience generating donations, etc.. There are all sorts of perceptions of who we are and where we are in life that can be challenged when we enter a volunteer organized scenario. Depending on the cause or organization, the pecking order may not be as clear. Egos can be pinched, inner fears sometimes surface. It really is an interesting environment to challenge ourselves and grow. And it always throws something new at who ever is in charge.
And sometimes, criticism is really about fear when our emotions about a cause are in the mix.
There is a percieved difference between complaints and critism,the critism most of the time try to channalise the positive energy whereas complaints instigae the negative energy. A leader must focus more on critism but should not outrightly reject the complaint. the person who is making complaints, i think somewhere is concerned about the team or individual, his way of expression may be different but can not supress the fact that something needs improvement. At the same time we shoudl not give much attention to the nagging complainer. Irrespective of the compalints or critism I think a person should continue to focus on his assignment and work, either way critism and complaints going to hurt and disturbe. Even, it require a open heart to listen the critism and take in the right spirit, any way both, I think gives the oopportunity for improvement.
Thank you Rajesh.
Love the addition that motivations can be positive even when expressions are negative. Perhaps some of us need to be taught better ways to express criticism.
About complainers, ‘Never wrestle with a pig – the pig enjoys the wrestling and you get dirty’. When they complain, say to them, ‘We’ll get back to that later’.
Thank you Alan…
Damn, I hate it when the pigs chase me… 🙂
And never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it just annoys the pig.
On the other hand, caterpillars can fly, if they would just lighten up!
Have fun out there, too!
Thank you for the timeless wisdom for this ‘animal’ called criticism is what we work up to, read in the paper and most important at times is how we learn from it… Criticism helps us identify areas of weakness its one of the key basic requirements to greatness – Kudzai Providence Nhema (nhkp)