Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Is your complaining keeping you stuck?

For as long as I can remember, being a friend to someone means that you lend an ear and "hear them out" during all of their complaining moments, however painful that may be.

And, being a really good friend usually implies jumping on the band wagon and siding with their part of the story...to show solidarity and support, of course. Often times, these "friendship rules" mean that disagreeing or offering a difficult and alternative perspective could be perceived as a threat to the friendship-a betrayal.

As I have learned from my daughter, this behavior can start as early as age 5. My personal experiences have also convinced me that this behavior continues well into adulthood. Our socialization process pounds into us that it is best to be nice and agreeable instead of being controversial, even at the expense of productivity.

The result in the business world is that we have many complaining conversations with little constructive and productive feedback going on.

As a business coach, my job is to find a way to deliver difficult and alternative perspectives in a manner that can be heard. The value I bring in delivering an unbiased point of view that is honest and direct is to help people grow and change.

Unfortunately, in business, like in friendship, nobody wants to tell people the way it is and nobody seeks to hear it. Instead, associates listen to each other complain about their bosses, their colleagues, their associates, their company, their jobs...and the list goes on. The complaining never changes and the "supportive" listeners only add fuel to the fire, ensuring that the complaining never stops. So with every story comes validation and unity, but little progress to change or to move forward results in the exchange.

This kind of complaining keeps you stuck. It creates drama and gossip that hurts you more than it does the people you are talking about.

Despite all of the energy it takes, the only real outcome will be to keep you exactly in the spot you are in.

I am always surprised when people say they feel good after they have "dumped" and engaged in a dialogue of complaining. Perhaps it is a way to feel "not alone", but it certainly does not provide one with a feeling of moving forward.

I went through several years of complaining. Nothing was right. My personal life wasn't fulfilling and my job or career wasn't going as planned. I didn't even realize how much I was using my friends as a sounding board, to just hear myself complain, until I had a friend stop me in my tracks. I hadn't spoken to him in about 8 months and when we resumed our conversation, he said to me "sounds like you are exactly in the same spot you were in when we last spoke, I guess that's where you want to be."

Since that day, I took an active and intentional decision to stop the complaining and to stop supporting complaining friends/colleagues. I realized that the complaining wasn't serving me at all. It kept me from taking accountability for my situation. I saw how giving energy and focus to the negatives in my life kept me stuck exactly where I didn't want to be.

So, if you find yourself to be someone who is constantly engaged in conversations where you are talking negatively about other people (Can you believe what (insert boss, spouse, friend, colleague name here) did today?) consider some of these important lessons:

1.Talking about your unhappiness keeps you from taking action towards change.
2.Complaining diverts your accountability for the situation.
3.Supporting complaining behavior makes you an accomplice in keeping others stuck.
4.You can't change anyone, but you can change how you react to someone.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I hope you can focus on the areas in your life where you are happy and satisfied. Please replace the complaining with lots of talk about these positive and meaningful aspects of your work and home life. As you do so, it will turn the gossip and drama into meaningful and lasting conversations that impact change and productivity.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Is there a risk for speaking up?

I recently read that an employee was being fired because she had griped about her boss on Facebook.

In my opinion, if you don't understand the public nature of social media then you deserve to be fired. This does show incredibly poor judgment.

But all kidding aside, it did raise the question about how far one can speak up against a boss, a work environment, or anything of major disagreement in a business setting without suffering some major consequence.

Take for example the recent news in China where a father was imprisoned for 2 1/2 years because in his activism he "embarrassed leadership."

Fortunately, in this country we do have the right to free speech, but it still begs the question of how far one can go without suffering some consequence, like being fired.

Can you embarrass your boss? And live to tell the tale?

First off, I don't think anyone should purposely try to make anyone else look stupid and intentionally embarrass them. If you have a major gripe, concern or point of contention in the business environment, do it with grace, respect and humility.

Here are few tips to help you not embarrass your leadership and still enable you to speak your mind.

1. Don't use blaming language
2. Take accountability for your part of the problem.
3. Ask more questions before settling on your point of view.
4. Seek other perspectives (not just validating ones).
5. Be compassionate.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Observation as recognition

A recent study indicated that 39% of employees leave jobs because they don't feel recognized.

Learning how to recognize others is a key leadership skill, but often a misunderstood one.

Many times leaders believe that recognition needs to be BIG, in order to be effective. This is not true. While a promotion and a pay raise is a form of recognizing great work, it is certainly not the only way to recognize employees.

I have learned a great deal about the importance and the simplicity of recognition by being a parent. I do think that many of these lessons transfer into the workplace.

The most critical component to recognition is observation. Leaders need to be present in the moment and observe employees behaviors. This is a far more productive tool that one could ever imagine.

When my daughter starts to get demanding or a bit unruly, it is my wake up call that I haven't been "present" with her enough. What I mean by that, is that work can take over. I get busy juggling things that life brings me and someitmes I get routinized into just getting through the activities and days surrounding my family life. The same happens at work. Leaders, like their employees, often get bogged down with the work and they get routinized into just getting through the work activities and plan.

When I find myself in this mode (and my daughter reminds me through her behavior,) no matter how busy I am I try to just stop and observe her. I ask questions and listen and spend quality, focused time on her. I practice deliberate observation which in turn makes her feel recognized, appreciated and respected. Amazingly, her unruly behaviors stop.

Leaders must learn how to practice this with their employees. Employees' behavior will directly remind you that they feel unrecognized. As a leader, you have the responsibility to stop and practice deliberate observation. In turn, you will see how these acts can go a long way with employees. They will begin to feel recognized, appreciated and respected. If you continue to practice this, over time, their unruly behaviors will stop.