By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Content Agency
Q. I manage a customer service department with demanding clients. Between the whining of our customers and the whining of my employees, I'm surrounded by negativity. By the end of the day, I'm exhausted. Is there a better way to manage all the grumbling?
A. Yes. First, realize that others people complain, most of us get our egos bruised and think the person whining is actually attacking us. The truth is, most people are deeply uncomfortable when they feel vulnerable. When we're angry and blaming, we feel powerful. And we need something, we feel weak, dependent and powerless.
Consequently, most people prefer attacking someone with an accusation rather than figuring out that they could take the risk to ask. Realize this problem is related to a flaw in human nature, not proof that you deserve to field complaints all day long.
Yes, listening to whining and complaints is exhausting. There's the joke that some people get lots of exercising jumping to conclusions. I would argue that people get a lot of exercise jumping up to defend themselves.
However, fighting back is not a wise use of your energy on the job. If you think you're being attacked, ask what the attacker wants specifically from you. For those who tend to whine or complain, consider instead what you really want and then ask for it.
Sure, your favorite moment of the workday is not listening to a customer or co-worker whine. But you don't have to stand there for hours and listen. Instead, let the person speak for a few minutes, then stop them and ask calmly, "How can I help you?" If they go back to whining, then paraphrase their emotions, saying, for instance, "I can see this is frustrating." Then return to asking what they want.
Until and unless you ask this basic question, the person may have never considered making a request. Instead, they may have simply been ruminating about how unfair you are, how wrong you are and how upset they are. When people are whining, they can get into a trance-like state where solutions are not the focus. It's like they've regressed to childhood, crying because they don't give themselves the option of using words to problem-solve.
If someone is acting like a 2-year-old, you may want to avoid power struggles with them. Here's a big hint, though: The same thing that works with a 2-year-old will work with an adult acting like they're only 2. When toddlers struggle with learning to speak, they often strike out, whine incessantly, or scream. We tell them to "use their words" because we know that acting up when they want something won't win friends and influence people. Adults forget to "use their words," too.
If you practice being a calm, consistent manager who really wants to know what others need, you'll transform your colleagues' and customers' view of you from foe to friend. You might even post a bumper sticker on your cubicle: "Whine Less, Negotiate More!"
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027.Sorry, no personal replies.
This column was printed in the March 22, 2015 - April 4, 2015 edition.