Grumbling is Good.
“If you are grumbling then you aren’t a part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” “Don’t listen to people who grumble, they just tear you down.” “All that guy ever does is grumble, I’ve gotten so I don’t even listen to him anymore.” “She used to be really involved and now all she does is grumble.”
The hardest thing for any organization to do is listen to criticism. In this day and age criticism is rarely offered in a straight forward, “you need to improve this,” statement. Most often it is in the form of an email complaint, a social media comment (or conversation) or a third hand conversation. However, successful organizations know that listening to the “grumbling” undercurrent is one of the most important elements of driving positive change.
Leaders often make the mistake of telling their constituents not to grumble. After all, grumbling often focuses on the leaders. It questions their skills, talents, motivations and efforts. It’s insulting! I’ve always found this kind of funny. It doesn’t stop the folks from grumbling, they just stop grumbling in a way that you can hear. (and when this happens you lose the positive input you might actually be getting from those who grumble).
There are two forms of grumbling. Grumbling from people who just generally grumble and grumbling from people who genuinely care. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. I don’t try. Here’s my recipe for handling grumbling. I’ve had a lot of practice so if you’re in a position where you are “hearing it” this might help.
- Listen to the message, not the tone. It takes a mature soul to be able to see or hear a perceived insult and not take it personally. I try to determine the origin of the complaint and decide if it is worthy, if it is something I’m already doing something about and if it merits a response.
- People are going to complain. Make sure they complain to you. You’d be amazed how often a ‘grumbler’ can become a stalwart defender of your character, most often because you took the time to listen to what they have to say and respond in a way that honors their opinion.
- Don’t respond when you’re mad. I’ve probably written a thousand emails that I never sent. I have a simple rule. If I’m mad I don’t press send. I make sure that I don’t by leaving the “to” field blank. I save it as a draft and come back to it the next day. Sometimes I send them and sometimes I don’t.
- Teach your people to listen, too. The single most destructive thing a leader can do is tell the leaders in an organization that they should not listen to criticism, whatever its form. No one person will ever be smarter than the collective view. Good ideas nearly always come from criticism. This doesn’t mean you always have to do what a critic says. In fact, the opposite is almost always true, but the problem with not listening is that you turn off the information inputs and that will ultimately kill an organization because the people who contribute will stop caring.
Ultimately, someone who grumbles compliments you. It can be hard to see this when you’re in the line of fire. (Again, trust me on this, I know this well). Here’s the thing. If they care enough to grumble it means they care. If they stop grumbling it means they’ve written you off. You may not care when things are good, but if you maintain that perspective for long enough you will regret the things you didn’t change.