+Scott Watson

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Stop Moaning And Start Solving

Oh, don't some people moan?  And perhaps that's a good thing on some occasions.  Don't we all need to let off steam every now and then when we feel frustrated, disappointed, angry and even downright disillusioned?

Having colleagues we can have the occasional moan to is a good thing.  Externalising what's going on in our head can serve as a release for pent up emotions and emotional pressure.  The real problem arises when moaning is accepted as the norm rather than the exception in teams and in organisations.  Let me share an example.

When I facilitate leadership development training programmes, there's a clear standard set from the outset with, and in partnership with participants.  That standard goes something like this...

'Shall we all agree that this leadership training event will focus on developing solutions and, in the event of you wanting to have a moan, you're welcome to it - on the condition that you also generate at least one solution to the problem or issue you're moaning about?'

In written form, this invitation or standard may look quite unfriendly, even unhelpful.  But in reality its exactly the opposite.  It's very friendly and extremely helpful in the right context and partnered with a little empathy.  And that context is helping participants, good, decent human beings to take personal responsibility for themselves, their communication and, the problem situations they find themselves in at that moment in time.

My colleague and I have an unwritten rule whereby if either of us are feeling a little (or a lot) negative about a situation or predicament, we give each other permission to have a moan for up to ten minutes each.  And, that's the absolute maximum allowed.  If there's no focus on coming up with a solution, there's no permission to moan.  However inhumane this may sound - it actually works really well!

Why Do People Moan?

On most occasions, moaning is due to at least one of our personal values being transgressed.  For example, if your key personal value is trust, if a colleague makes a commitment to you on an important project and then, chooses to not keep that commitment - and doesn't let you know otherwise, trust can be damaged, the relationship soured and, it's emotionally healthy to find an outlet and share your disappointment with a trusted colleague.  Not too many mind you, or that can develop in to a pity party when you prove just how big a victim you are. And that's not healthy for anybody. Plus, if it develops to this stage, people will start avoiding you anyway.

A five minute moan can help to release stress and anxiety too.  Have you ever noticed one of your colleagues bounding around your office gesticulating and openly showing their captive audience (colleagues who care + those who don't) just how angry they are?  It seems that actively demonstrating disappointment, frustration, anger - and other related emotions is viewed by the perpetrator as a sign that their audience care. But it's exactly the opposite.  They don't care - and your shouting about the office is becoming an unwelcome interruption for them.

Breathe Deeply....

Just because you've calmed down and returned to your normal emotional state after a moan, or negative emotional experience doesn't mean you don't care.  It means that you are now able and ready to return to a more healthy, balanced emotional and mental state.  It means that you are better able to address the issue at hand without resorting to emotional blackmail or guilt tripping.  Tough Talks are most effective when undertaken in an emotionally balanced manner. And, do you know that after an 'emotional hijack, it can take your body up to 48 hours to return to its most balanced emotional state? So there are some potentially dangerous health issues to consider here.

A Question To Ask A Persistent Moaner

If your ear is being repeatedly bent by a constant moaner - and it doesn't matter where they sit or stand in the organisational structure, an effective way of helping them step out of their emotional state and think more clearly (or at worst, sod off and bother some other poor person) is to ask a good question.  And, good questions are not 'So how does that make you feel?' or 'Will s/he ever change?' A really good, snappy, solution focused question is this...

'And how are you maintaining this problem?'

With some people, such a question will push them to fly back at you on auto-pilot, pity party mode with a response such as 'I'M NOT DOING ANYTHING to maintain the problem.  It's not my fault...dah di dah di dah....'  You know how it goes. They're only telling you and moaning to you because they think that you'll listen, and listen sympathetically because you care.  Here's a news flash.  When you persistently moan - PEOPLE STOP CARING! They're just too polite to tell you.

For some people, such a challenging question will get them to pause for thought, look a little puzzled and then respond with something along the lines of 'Oh, I didn't know I was maintaining the problem...but now you mention it, I suppose I am.'

And this is where solutions are found. When finger pointing and blaming stops, personal ownership and responsibility has a space to get involved and re-activated.  Think about it for a second.  Isn't it always easier to expect somebody else to change how they communicate, think, feel and behave?   Another News Flash - You could be waiting a very looooooooong time for that to happen! But waiting for somebody else to change, as well as becoming rather frustrating, can also absolve us of our role in the issue. And if we're involved in a 'Problem' don't we need to be involved in the 'Solution' too?

Getting Focused On Solutions

Another question that can prove helpful for people who are willing to explore solutions is this.

'What are three things you could do and would be happy to do to resolve this specific problem?'

Again, the moaners will quickly and smoothly absolve themselves of any responsibility, sticking with their well rehearsed story that someone else has to change before they themselves can feel better.  But the solution focused people will start to think of solutions.  And the beauty of this is - The Solutions Are Theirs - Not Yours! And this makes them far more likely and far more motivated to act upon their solutions.

Try this approach for 7 days and start to notice how things (and people's thinking) change - for the better!

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