Chapter 6 from Steven’s book, Honesty Works!
HAVE YOU HEARD someone complain about the same thing so often that you can predict exactly what they are going to say? It may seem as if they would rather complain than find a solution. That may be true for some, but many complainers really do want to resolve their complaint. They are simply stuck in the rut of complaining, and they don’t know how to get out. To make matters more complex, sometimes the item being complained about is not really the issue.
Let’s look at a few examples. Someone who complains about traffic may really want flexible work hours or the opportunity to telecommute. Someone who complains about his or her bills may really want a raise. The bottom line is this — we don’t necessarily know what people want when they complain. We are not mind readers, and if we have to guess, then the real problems may go unresolved.
The following is a three-step process for resolving complaints. (You can also use this process to facilitate a meeting between people that are complaining and upset with each other.) Try The Complaint Ending Process™.
1. Listen and acknowledge the emotions involved.
When people complain, they want to make sure they are heard. Until then, they won’t be ready to resolve their issue. When someone complains, we must let them know that we
are listening to them. One of the best ways to do this is to reflect and acknowledge the emotion you are hearing from them. You can acknowledge their emotions by saying something like, “I understand you are upset/stressed/annoyed.” By acknowledging the emotions involved, you are more likely to help them diffuse and dissipate.
2. Facilitate a possible solution.
Change the focus of the conversation from the complaint to a possible solution. You can do this by asking questions like: “What do you think we should do about it?” or “What would you like done about this?” or “How can we resolve this?” By asking solution-oriented questions, the complainer can often come up with great solutions. This is because they
are the ones closest to the problem, and they often know how to fix it. Another positive result of this approach is that if the complainer discovers the solution, they are more likely
to feel empowered. Now they have a vested interest in implementing the solution and seeing it to a successful conclusion. This is not to say we should never offer our advice. Instead wait and listen until you are sure you know what it is they really want and that they do in fact want our help. If the person does not want you to help fix the problem, and you ask them a facilitating, solution-oriented question such as, “What would you suggest,” they will usually reply that they just wanted someone to listen. In that case, do just that and drop the issue.
3. Be honest and work out an agreeable action plan.
If you are not able to give the complainer what they want, say so, and explain why you cannot. An explanation is very important. This way, the person at least understands and feels respected (even if they don’t like our answer). Then follow up with, “What else would you suggest?” By doing this, you let them know that you can’t always give them what they want, but you will be honest and will remain open to discussing other solutions. If they ask you for your ideas, feel free to tell them. The difference now is that they are asking for help rather than receiving unsolicited advice. Work together to come up with a solution that is agreeable to both of you.
Let’s consider an example. An employee had been complaining for months about not having enough resources to do their job effectively. The boss focused all of her energy on suggesting ways form the employee to utilize the existing resources more effectively.
However, the employee continued to complain. This not only began to annoy the boss, it soon began to irritate the entire team. Everyone was affected by the complaining.
Using the three steps, the boss produced some great results. The boss met with the employee privately and recounted the employee’s complaints from the previous months. The boss said, “It seems as though you are upset and stressed.” (This is acknowledging
the emotions involved.) “What do you think we can do about the situation?” (This is brainstorming possible solutions.)
The employee stopped complaining, calmed down, and after a moment said, “I know we are understaffed. I have been working late, and I just want to be acknowledged for the extra time and energy I have been putting in, considering the lack of resources. And, of course, I hope that when things change, I will be considered for a promotion.” The lack of resources wasn’t the real issue. The real issue was not feeling appreciated for the extra work done and the employee’s desire to be promoted. The boss apologized and shared how much she appreciated the employee. Then they had a conversation about career possibilities for the employee.
Using The Complaint Ending Process™ won’t resolve all the complaining that you encounter on a daily basis, but it should help significantly. And better yet, everyone will benefit from the improvement.