Magazine article Management Today

First Class Coach

Magazine article Management Today

First Class Coach

Article excerpt

In my department, everyone moans all the time about almost everything. Their relentless pessimism is not only counter-productive, it's getting me down. What can I do about it?

Constant complaining used to be viewed as something of a British disease, particularly where organisational hierarchy was strongest. Trade unions were often typecast as professional moaners, searching each new event for further evidence of the conspiracy by 'them' to do 'us' down, and then to complain about it.

Moaning can infect whole departments, or even companies. There is a sense of fraternity in shared moaning - we're all in it together, victims of the system - and misery loves company. The net effect of a group collectively building a negative picture, where everything is cast in a grey light, can debilitate an organisation.

Endemic moaning is a real enemy to change, preserving the status quo rather than moving things on. Like most other bad habits, carping on can be a hard habit to break, especially if it has become part of the culture.

Sometimes a shift of geography can provide the discontinuity that prompts change. A persistent offender re-sited to sit among the more optimistic can find his new neighbours don't play the game and so gives up, except when reunited with his old workmates.

Sometimes the moaning is the result of unrealistic expectations of work and the level of satisfaction it can provide. For those who have only ever worked in one place, it is difficult to establish a benchmark and it's not surprising that the grass may appear greener elsewhere.

But moaning is just one facet of complaining. Appropriate complaint has achieved significant change in all sorts of areas by bringing to attention unsatisfactory situations. So being an effective complainer is a skill we're often encouraged to develop.

In this lies the potential solution to your problem. Perhaps there is substance to the gripes of department members, legitimate criticism of things that are sub-optimal. You can test this hypothesis in this way: convene a meeting and call it an improvement workshop (or similar). Invite the moaners and other, more positive souls. Ask them to come equipped with their suggestions for the way things could be made better. Give each person a chance to state succinctly what they see as a problem area and to suggest what could be done to remedy it. …

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