Only Complain Up

You are unhappy with something at work, some policy, some recent adjustment to your strategy, a change in the compensation plan, or something that you might interpret as making your job more difficult. Maybe it’s worse, you have long-existing challenge that has not garnered the proper attention, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to contend with.

You will never struggle to find people who will commiserate, complain, and bellyache about what is not right, what is broken, and what is difficult. As much as it might make you feel better to vent, it is a mistake to do so unless you are venting up.

Not Down

If you complain to people who work directly for you, you are establishing a negative culture. As a leader, when you complain down, you delegitimize the decisions your company makes, increasing the likelihood of failure. You also disempower people by suggesting to them that their failure is a result of the decisions of your senior leaders.

This is not to say that you should not complain, nor is it to suggest that you don’t argue vociferously against decisions you believe to be mistaken. If you are going to do either of these, you complain up. You make your case to the people who can do something, not those who are powerless to make changes.

There are a few more ideas worth noting here, all of which are useful in dealing with the issues, challenges, and changes that cause people to complain—and potentially struggle.

Rules of Engagement

Assume Good Intentions: Assume that no one is deliberately putting obstacles in your way. Before you decide to complain, ask for a conversation to better understand why your leadership took a decision and how it is going to benefit the overall success of the organization.

Discuss Obstacles: Over time, your company will make decisions that make your job in some way more difficult. Describe and explain how that decision impacts your job and ask for help mitigating any impact it has if it is possible to do so (knowing that sometimes it is possible, and other times it isn’t).

Propose Solutions: Show up with a proposal to solve the problem instead of becoming one. When you show up with an idea, you are doing something more than complaining; you are helping to forward the new change or resolve the long-standing, unresolved challenge.

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