How hard is it to do something constructive about employees who complain, moan, whine, etc, at work? People generally regard these behaviours as negative, so what can be done to help in a work situation?
Putting up with difficult behaviors that result in incessant complaining about other people, tasks, customers, bosses, employees, suppliers, how things are not the ‘way they used to be’, how things are ‘still the way they used to be’, the new office, the old office, the ‘whatever’ is a drain.
During one of our recent workshops, one of the participants said: ‘You get exposed to this relentless negative talk — your brain loses the will to function!’ Everyone in the group agreed – it was these type of difficult behaviors that contributed to the stress of the workpalce.
In our workshops about respectful behaviour, we ask participants to list the difficult behaviors displayed at work that bring us down, the things that people may do and say that simply make the day seem so long.
The complaining, moaning, whining behaviours always make the list.
We call it the ‘Goldilocks phenomenon’.
You will recall the bedtime story — the one with the bears?
Goldilocks was a serial complainer! Two-thirds of her environment Goldilocks complained about. The porridge was too hot, too cold, the chair too small, too big — and on and on she moaned. Goldilocks could have left the house — instead, she stayed and found perfection — and that result is the part of the story that is the fairytale.
Many of us have to deal with this kind of behaviour — where some people do more than whine, they can find a reason to not do something, eg the chair is just not right. Unlike in the fable, perfection is not there and Goldilocks does not leave. Can you imagine the torture today’s Goldilocks would inflict on the local barista with complicated requests for 77 different low-fat, slow-roasted coffee varieties?
How to handle Difficult Behavior?
How do we handle the complaining, moaning, whining behaviours?
You may see where this is going — let’s go to war on goldilocks’ behaviour? Not so fast.
It is a struggle to deal with difficult behaviour from others. We may find it easy to think or say things like
‘he does not get it’, ‘why can’t she just get over it’, ‘you just do not understand’.
Responding to others’ difficult behaviour is not hard — it is easy. So easy to respond by falling into the trap of feeling more important than the other person displaying unhelpful behaviour, so easy perhaps to belittle them, to put them down.
Responding to others’ difficult behavior respectfully — now that is a challenge.
Six basic communications tactics to deal with Difficult Behavior
Let’s look at how we might respectfully and appropriately challenge the difficult behaviours of vexatiously complaining, criticising and judging.
Here are six basic communications tactics to use when you’re confronted with charged situations in your workplace:
1. Don’t react in anger. Express your feelings in a clear and non-threatening way. Creating an open, receptive environment reduces the chances of escalating the conflict.
2. Be specific when describing the offending situation. Just say what you saw or what you heard.
But don’t state any assumptions about intention. This limits the odds of the person responding defensively.
3. Explain how the situation has affected you. Often people don’t ask or even consider about how others are affected by their behaviour, so addressing this directly can help people see some of the consequences of their behaviour.
4. Ask what they were thinking at the time of the offending action and how the situation makes them feel. Aim for direct answers. Get clarification if needed. Understanding their point of view is the best way to learn how to work with them.
5. Acknowledge your contribution to the situation. Accepting your share of the responsibility takes away the blame and establishes an even ground.
6. Invite the other person to work with you to improve the situation. This takes the individual off the hot seat, and gives them the power to make a change for the better.
Every workplace has that one employee or group of employees who constantly complain about something – everyone around ends up putting up with the difficult behavior until one day it explodes into confrontation. Dealing with difficult behaviors is not an easy thing but at the same time it should not be avoided or left until its beyond repair. Don’t wait until it is too late before addressing difficult behavior in the workplace.