Complaining about our problems has always been a popular pastime, especially in the workplace. And it’s been estimated that the average person spends approximately 10 hours a week complaining or listening to others complain while at work. Not only is this not productive, it also creates a lot of toxicity.
When we think of complaining, we often think of the outright moaning and groaning. But there is another, more subtle form of complaining that pervades our work lives, too. Here is a story to illustrate:
I was observing an executive team as they discussed an issue with their email server and a new migration that was taking place. What I noticed as this team discussed the issue, was that the first 15 minutes of the conversation was spent listening to each person recount his or her horrible experience with the migration.
What happened after the first 15 minutes though was even more interesting. One person (who we will call Bob) spoke up, “I think the solution might be to see if we can have just certain parts of the data moved at a time and stop the current process, which obviously isn’t working.” The room immediately fell silent.
What Bob had done was show up with a solution, and voiced it. It may not have been the right solution, or even the best one (that remained to be seen), but it was certainly better than continuing to complain about the issue. The conversation from that point on centered on how they could bring the issue under control to get back on track, and then they were onto the next agenda item.
It’s easy to get caught up in a complaint-session-cloaked-as-an-agenda-topic, because it really feels like we’re doing something about it by spending time complaining about it. After all, the agenda says that we should be discussing the issue. Doesn’t that count as discussing the issue?
What we unconsciously get duped into is spending an unnecessary amount of time recycling the issue rather than solving it.
Studies have shown that being solution-focused is better than being problem-focused. In other words, staring at a flat tire and wondering about the many ways it could have become flat while you’re stranded on the side of the highway does nothing to support you in getting on your way. Once the problem has been identified, there is nothing left to do but create all of the possible solutions.
It can be tempting to waste time and energy venting about the problem, but it’s much better to be Bob.