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How to be an Effective Complainer

Dan Bobinski
September 20, 2006 -- By Dan Bobinski 

If youíve ever disagreed with anything at your work, youíve probably complained about it at one time or another. To be sure, complaining at work is sometimes necessaryóif a genuine grievance exists. But chronic complainers can be a drain on workplace morale and productivity. Theyíre seen as part of the problem, not part of the solution.
The way I see it, itís hard to be a workplace professional if youíre a professional complainer.
A person of character recognizes that rules are established for a reason. Such a person knows that on the surface some policies seem senseless; but that contrary to popular belief, executive boards donít sit around scheming up ways to mess with the heads of the rank and file.
Boardroom decisions are focused on strategic growth and profitability. Granted, a new policy may be ill-informed or create unforeseen problems, but workplace professionals genuinely try to figure out how the new rules or procedures fit with the bigger picture. They maintain a solid work ethic, doing what is right and pressing on for excellence.
If a new policy seems counter-productive, a complaint is certainly in order. But a workplace professional takes initiative to outline the problem and one or more recommended solutions, complete with the likely costs and ripple effects for each.  The process is objective and the delivery proactive; itís void of all whining and finger-pointing.  After all, if youíre making suggestions that have to be approved by the proverbial bean counters, itís best if you learn to speak bean.
Similar levels of professionalism are used when a complaint is being made against a particular person or team.
On the other hand we have professional complainers. In my opinion, these people are the philosophical opposites of workplace professionals. They shy away from responsibility and dwell in a land of blame and accusation. They donít look for how something fits into the bigger pictureótheyíre either unaware a bigger picture exists or theyíre too self-centered to care.
To help professional complainers move away from appearing silly, selfish, lazy, short-sighted, whinny, annoying, or any combination of the above, the following are a few things to do when a legitimate complaint exists.
1. Use the chain of command. If your complaint is about a fellow worker, either go directly to that worker or go to your own supervisor. What if your complaint is about your supervisor? Think of it this way: The above recommendation is optimal efficiency.
If you donít get resolution, take your complaint up the chain of command. Just be aware that in some cases your chain of command may lack authority to address your complaint. (Example: complaints that challenge federal or state requirements.)
2. Select an appropriate place.  Filing a complaint should be done as privately as possible, such as in someoneís office, not in the break room or out on the shop floor.
3. Choose an effective time.  Five minutes before a meeting, five minutes before itís time to leave, or five minutes after arriving to work are probably not the best times. In many cases, scheduling a formal meeting is a good idea, as it allows the other person to devote his or her undivided attention to the matter.  Other times an informal discussion is best. Consider your workplace culture for what would be the most effective time.
4. Verify the accuracy of your information. As much as you possibly can, check your facts. Getting all worked up over falsehoods does not shine a good light on your decision-making abilities.
Also, be objective. Having documentation of dates, times, places, and specific behaviors adds credibility. Finger-pointing, judgmental comments, and personal attacks do not.
5. Suggest one or more solutions. Having a clear picture in oneís mind of an effective resolution not only moves things forward, it shows you want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Itís also best to stay calm and focused. Emotional outbursts or theatrics tend to detract from an argument, not add to it.
6. Know that you might not get a quick response. A superior may need time to gather facts from multiple sources. Beans may need to be counted. Also, if the complaint involves confidentiality issues, it may take time to ensure that proper channels are used and company procedures are followed.
Bottom line, itís perfectly reasonable to have a complaint; but how one processes that complaint determines which kind of person one is going to be; Either a workplace professional, or a professional complainer.

© 2006 Dan Bobinski / Leadership Development, Inc. You may freely forward this information providing the text is sent as an integral whole and contact information for the author is included, such as using the text that appears below:
Dan Bobinski is a popular keynote speaker, a certified behavioral analyst, and the President and CEO of Leadership Development, Inc. He is also the primary author of Living Toad Free: Overcoming Resistance to Motivation. He can be reached at (208) 375-7606 [toll free: 888-92-COACH] or by Email at dan@leadershipanswers.com
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