One thing that seriously undermines employee and team morale is negativity. One negative comment can frustrate team members and slow productivity. A negative leader or manager can cause subordinates to reconsider their choice for work. When we fall into the trap of pointing out problems without solutions – or complaining – we can easily earn a negative reputation because our demeanor about a topic stays hopeless and defeated. Instead, let’s explore ways to stop being a problem “pointer-outer” and begin instead to generate solutions and turn potential negatives into consistent positives.

A hopeful interpretation about someone who seems to complain incessantly is that they don’t realize how much they’re doing it and the effect it’s having on others. We often claim to be “venting” about a topic, but when our venting starts to become an everyday occurrence, that’s when it can lead to others viewing us as a Negative Nelly or Nathan. The first step to change this is to focus on sharing feedback constructively. When you shift your mindset to focus on solutions for the things that frustrate you, you’ll get out of the weeds of complaining and back on the road to proactive progression. You are less likely to feel the same emotions about the problem and to now view it objectively when you shift your energies to find a solution.

You might be asking yourself, “How do I become more solutions-oriented?” Let’s explore a 4-step strategy for brainstorming solutions using this common complaint as an example. The complaint is: my staff continue to make the same mistakes in their work and they wait for me to catch and correct them, even though my workload is so great, I may miss them.

  1. The first step is to clarify your frustration or feelings of negativity around the thing you don’t like by listing specific aspects of discontent. Using our example, that would look something like this:
    1. My staff are making the same mistakes repeatedly
    2. I’m forced to do a deeper review to catch mistakes that I shouldn’t need to guard against
    3. I have to work additional hours to complete my workload because of this
    4. My staff don’t seem to be learning or growing when they make these same mistakes
  2. The next step is to look at the potential root causes of the problem. These might include:
    1. My staff don’t care that they’re making mistakes because they know I’ll fix them
    2. My staff aren’t aware of the mistakes that they’re making
    3. My staff are unsure about how to avoid the mistakes they’re making
    4. I’m not taking enough time to show my staff how to avoid these mistakes
    5. I don’t have an easy way to provide feedback

    Now I can see areas for potential solution and where I specifically can play a role in the solution. Because I’m trying to be constructive and solutions-oriented, I’m not going to pursue solving the first potential root cause of my staff not caring because that’s negative and less likely to be the true cause than the other four possibilities. The ones that stick out the most for me as real areas for solution are numbers 4 and 5.

  3. The next step is to list the positive outcomes or results you can generate by solving this, which in turn will cause you to feel more positive about the subject and mitigate the complaints. These include:
    1. Once my staff learn how to fix a mistake, they will make that same mistake less often
    2. I will spend less time in deep review and catching the same mistakes and more time on other work that is of my highest and best use
    3. I will also have more time to work with staff on other emerging issues or to teach them something new that could help take something off my plate
    4. My staff will feel more confident in their abilities because they’re able to complete work free from errors
  4. Now that I have identified the challenges, possible root causes and the results I could produce when I solve these problems, the next step is to generate and share solutions. If the problem is something that affects others in the firm and not something that you can solve alone, you’ll need to approach the appropriate decision-making person to discuss your solution ideas. Your firm leadership is more likely to agree with your solution or help you brainstorm additional ideas when your solution is well thought-out, practical and viable, which this 4-step approach will help you achieve.

    In this example, some potential solutions that I could consider include:
    1. I can be sure that my staff will know when they make mistakes by scheduling 15 minute “huddles” with each individual to discuss what they’re doing well and review common errors on their work
    2. I can schedule a quick lunch and learn about the common errors we’re finding in review and how to avoid them
    3. I can provide timely feedback as soon as the work has been reviewed by sending a brief email with my suggestions for next time and/or requesting to schedule a brief meeting to go over the work

    Once I’ve determined which solution I’d like to pursue, I’ll then need to share that solution with my supervisor and/or team members to gain agreement. When I do so, I’ll want to ensure that I reference the positive outcomes that the solution is intended to achieve. I might also ask my team members if they have any ideas for enhancing open communication lines in our working relationship. They could have a great idea that I hadn’t thought of and could be used in conjunction with or in place of my planned solution.

Sometimes, you realize that there isn’t an obvious or viable solution that can be achieved at the current time. However, there may be small steps you or your firm can take to start implementing the overarching solution. In all, breaking down the area of frustration will help reduce your feelings of negativity around it. And, if you realize that finding a solution is more complex than you expected and will take time, you may find additional comfort in knowing that the problem isn’t the result of leadership apathy or neglect.

When you can take control of the things that are frustrating you by thinking through them and brainstorming solutions, you automatically shift your perspective to a more positive, “in action” versus “victimized” standpoint. Others will start to see you as more constructive and will stop hearing you as a complainer when you have ideas to resolve your concerns.

How do you manage someone who is negative in the workplace? What strategies do you take to avoid getting mired in your own personal complaining? This is such an important topic and an easy trap to fall into – share with us because we’d love your thoughts!

Kind regards,