The Magic Statement that Gives Purpose to Whining
You hate conversations that circle the drain. You’re impatient to make things better and move the agenda forward. You don’t have time for whining.
The challenge is whiners care. Some deliver great results when they aren’t whining. But a magic statement gives purpose to whining.
Whining as connecting:
You connect with team members when you give them a safe place to vent. (Venting: a kind word for whining.)
Everyone needs a safe place to get things off their chest. Better you than someone on the team.
Don’t give solutions:
Don’t solve a whiner’s concerns.
When you answer whiners’ concerns, they explain why you’re wrong. In the process of contradicting you, they find new things to whine about.
The worst thing you can do is try to solve an habitual whiner’s problems.
When you try to solve a whiner’s concerns, they think you just don’t get it.
Get to “yes” by describing emotion:
Practice empathy without getting trapped by sympathy.
- This seems serious. What do you think?
- You seem frustrated. Am I on target?
- You must feel discouraged. Is that right?
- This situation must be a terrible weight on your shoulders. What do you think?
You connect by accurately describing someone’s emotional state. You might not agree but you understand.
Give your whiner a chance to say “Yes”.
“Yes” is a door of opportunity for someone consumed with “no”.
The magic statement:
After a whiner says, “Yes, you understand,” gently say…
“And this is important to you because….”
Let your voice trail off and up as you end your statement. Quietly give them a chance to fill in the blank.
Solve their “because”. How can you/we make (fill in with their because) better?
What suggestions do you have for effective venting?
This technique is adapted from Just Listen by Mark Goulston.
My husband is a chronic complainer and I am naturally positive and upbeat (or so I like to think. So many arguments stem from me “not understanding” because I try to help or fix. I am totally going to ask better questions now to help him get to his own “yes.” Leadership Freak just went from boardroom to bedroom!
This sounds brilliant. I only hope I might remember some of the questions when I am faced with responding to a whiner.
I love venting and find it useful for colleagues to let off steam. However, I have found that it is useful after a venting session to ask the room “OK, and what are we going to DO about it?”, until we get to a constructive, positive action we can take.
Good advice. The worst moment is when you know the whiner is right but you know company policy forbids both of you from solving the problem.
You must feel discouraged. Is that right?
Who wouldn’t? But hey, what do the results matter provided you followed the rules and the process?
Venting on paper first to get all the unnecessary thoughts first.
It’s good to have a venting buddy so you don’t vent at your manager. However, if you vent to lots of people that’s just a waste of time and it could hurt your reputation.
Sometimes I vent to myself in the car. Just saying stuff out loud helps. Be sure to ask yourself what you plan to do about it. People will just think you’re talking on your car’s hands free system.
Having grown up being called a whiner by my Dad and older brother and his friends I can relate! I now have whining children of my own (not just my team at work!), and have found similar tactics useful myself. Asking questions while venting/whining, and being vented/whined to is definitely the best way to get from whining to a positive conversation. It can be hard to not bark back solutions, but one must resist, and instead use insightful interrogatory questions to change our whiner into a problem solver. The biggest key is to listen: you won’t know what to ask unless you really understand why they’re feeling the way they do.
Please Advise – I’m concerned that asking these open ended questions will lead to more whining. A person on my team often starts talking and 30 min later, we are still listening to the details about what is upsetting to them.
Venting frustrations can have healthy, productive outcomes or can breed and spread more angst within a workplace. Good leadership and management are often the tipping points of determining if these negative emotions can be transitioned into positive outcomes. A crucial step to manage venting is providing an appropriate space where individuals feel they can be open and honest about workplace frustrations. By providing this space, it will hopefully keep the irritation of one individual from disturbing the work of others.
Secondly, acknowledging the emotion regardless of one’s own opinion. Nothing will fuel a frustrated fire like lack of concern and acknowledgment for someone’s obvious dissatisfied feelings. A simple acknowledgment can often defuse volatile emotions. Another crucial advisable step is allowing for adequate time for someone to vent. Listening to someone’s frustrated feelings while nodding and counting down the minutes until the next appointment is unlikely to end with a productive solution to the issue at hand. If approached when enough time is not available, recognize the frustration and schedule a time where the issue can be discussed at length. The individual must be assured that the delay in the discussion is not due to disinterest in their feelings, but quite the opposite, in that the delay is to ensure adequate time to really listen and work on possible solutions.
One management approach is asking staff members not to come to leaders and management with problems, but with solutions. As a leader, it can be very difficult to come up with a resolution to a problem that someone is facing on the spot, which is often what is expected by the whiner. It can also be a challenge to find an acceptable solution without the input of those frustrated by the current situation. By asking the whiner, “How would you best resolve this issue?”, it may provide insight for workable solutions, as well as make them aware that an easy fix may or may not be possible. Some degree of venting in the workplace is inevitable, it is how leaders direct and manage these feelings that determines if they result in an explosion or a peaceful breeze.