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How to Fix Your Company Without Being a Negative Complainer

Negativity is dangerous. It can ruin your sales results, and it can infect the people around you. Misery may love company, but you shouldn’t be the President of the Misery club or provide that forum for others.

But your company–like all others–has its fair share of problems and challenges. These problems and challenges can prevent you from producing the results that you need to, and they should be addressed. There is a way to get these outcomes without becoming negative or complaining. In fact, done well and you can be a catalyst for change and a leader within your own organization.

Here’s how:

Never Discuss a Problem without also Providing a Solution

If you have identified a problem or a challenge that needs to be addressed, make sure that when you address it that you also provide ideas about how things can be improved. If you continually point out and restate problems and challenges without identifying solutions, you are part of the problem. You are sowing the seeds of discontent and spreading negativity. Pointing at what your company is getting wrong is often a diversion from dealing with your own problems, and it invites others to do the same. This isn’t how you make improvements.

If you provide ideas about how to make things better, you become part of the solution. You recognize the challenge for what it is, and the fact that you are providing ideas about how those challenges can be overcome means that you believe that they can and will be eventually overcome. It means that you aren’t trying to excuse your shortcomings. It means you are engaged in making things better.

If you name the problem, you name the solution.

Redefine the Problem as an Opportunity

There isn’t a more useful human attribute than resourcefulness. You need ideas that will make the improvement and erase the problem or challenge confronting you. One way to engage you and your team’s resourcefulness is to reframe your problem as an opportunity. You do this by tying the problem to some greater value or some longer-term initiative.

Here’s an example. If your team has a problem with customer service, you can tie that problem to your company’s stated value of being proactive. You can reframe that problem as an opportunity to deliver customer service in a way that eliminates the problem, gives life to the value statement, and uses your newfound ability to be proactive as a competitive advantage.

Some of the problems or challenges you face are really opportunities to do something revolutionary, if you are resourceful.

Never Assume Evil Intentions

This point and the next go together like bookends. They hold an idea together. That idea is about relationships and people.

It’s true that sometimes your company will suffer from self-inflicted wounds. Your people will make mistakes that will make your job more difficult. They will also let your clients down and cause problems to monopolize your time. But this makes the people you work with human–not evil.

When you complain or demonize and individual, you do nothing to help improve the problem or challenge. Most people are trying to do good work. Most people want to do meaningful work. And most people have to deal with constraints that prevent them from performing as well as they would like to. Assume their intentions are good and assume they need your help, not your complaints or criticism.

Which brings us to the second half of the set.

Focus on the Problem, Not Individuals

Many of the problems and challenges you and your team face are systemic. They’re structural. If you focus on the individuals instead of the problem, the problem remains. To fix the issue, you have to deal with the systemic or structural problem. And guess what? After you beat the tar out of the individuals, they tend to be a bit less open to listening to your ideas and helping you to make the changes that you need.

Focus on the problem itself, not the individuals.

Never Complain Laterally or Down

If you complain to your peer group, you are a force for negativity. If you complain to those who occupy a lower rung on the org chart, you are sowing the seeds of discontent. This makes you less of a leader, and you have to be a leader to succeed in sales.

Instead, bring your problems and challenges to your manager or leader. You bring them your ideas about the problem and what’s causing it (and don’t forget to bring your ideas as to how to make improvements). If the problems are systemic and structural and your peer group’s help, you ask to schedule a meeting to present ideas, not to sit around the table and air your grievances. You set the ground rules that no one shows up without their ideas—and that it isn’t a bitch-session.

If you must complain, complain up.

Know That You Have to Sell Inside

You may get what you want, but you have to be prepared to sell long enough to get it. Even if you have identified a problem and its solution, you are going to have to sell your team on taking the actions that will fix it. You cannot expect everyone to drop everything and change at the drop of the hat. You have to do the work of leading that change, making the case for change, building consensus, and then leading the charge.

You are going to have to sell inside if you really want to make things better. This will take longer than you suspect, and you can’t lose heart. Stand and fight for as long as it takes.

Questions

How do you address problems and concerns without becoming negative or complaining?

Who should you complain to, if you have to? Who shouldn’t you complain to?

When you recognize a problem, do you also make sure that you provide ideas about how it might be solved?

Why is it wrong to complain without offering a plan to make things better?

How do you make change in your company? How do you sell inside?


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Comments

comments

  • http://cocreatr.typepad.com CoCreatr

    Yes, this makes a lot of business sense. Endless time gets wasted, employees bitching to each other about things that management could change if they only knew, in a non-threatening way. But then, management needs to go ask and listen, because in some companies, bad news may kill the messenger before he is able to present the solution. Even then there is a workaround. Present the solution first, then the problem it solves. Or ask, do you want to know the problem and likely root causes we found? Just in case management is not wise enough to invite open feedback.

  • Tamara G. Suttle

    Love love love this post!  I remember early in my career of making most of these mistakes.  However, over time, it became obvious that you can complain or you can work toward change.  You can rarely do both at the same time.  It appears that your suggestions are obviously the latter.  Thanks for spelling it out!  Wish I had read your post 30 years ago!

  • http://www.adamlehman.us/ AdamLehman

    Critical advice here. Absolutely key. 

    I used to think that my analytical thinking & deconstruction of problems were a strength. I didn’t often provide solutions or try to “sell” internally. That’s changed and I’ve become a much greater asset to orgs I work with. 

  • DesmondC.

    What happens when your leader feels threatened by the ideas, suggestions you bring to improve the organization? Or brush aside the deep rooted causes of the constant challenges repeatedly faced by the teams but not by him/her , since he/she doesn’t do the work him/herself? I was shocked when told that I don’t get to redefine my jobs in this organization, when all I was trying to do was improve the structure and roles to improve our effectiveness in driving towards growth.