Yes, I'm talking about you, Sue Shellenbarger. Normally a very positive person, the Work & Family columnist for "The Wall Street Journal" recently wrote an extremely negative article titled "What to Do With a Workplace Whiner." Surprisingly, Shellenbarger's answer was not to immediately promote the whiner and give them a big fat raise. Instead, she brought in a bunch of workplace experts who brought up a bunch of techniques to stifle whiners. I don't want to complain, but that's not nice.
Nor is it smart. Whiners play an important part of our efforts to promote progress. And that's not just my opinion; that's history. If it weren't for cavemen complainers, we'd never have invented fire, or footy pajamas or Honey Boo Boo. You'd still be sitting in a cold cave, in a loincloth, watching a rock.
If whiners are a problem in your workplace, you may want to try some of suggestions from Shellenbarger's experts. According to Dana Brownlee, a corporate trainer, staying neutral by just listening and nodding can backfire. "Before you know it," Brownlee suggests, "there's another version of the story circulating, saying you were the one saying something negative about the VP. And they're talking about you over by the Coke machine."
Of course, you already know they're talking about you over by the Coke machine, and over by the coffee machine and over by the copying machine, too. That's the price of being beautiful, brilliant and completely paranoid. On the other hand, Jon Gordon, an author and consultant, cautions against directly complaining to complainers. "They may take it in a completely wrong way," he says, "and then you've alienated them."
It's difficult to see how someone could take a comment like "you're a loudmouth moron who doesn't know when to shut his yap" the wrong way, but it will be equally difficult to adopt Mr. Gordon's remedy, which is to "set an example by not griping yourself." This is what Kris Whitehead, a salesman, discovered when he tried to overcome the "secret fears" he shared with complaining colleagues with the suggestion that they "focus instead on solutions."
"No one wanted to listen," Whitehead reported, plus "people started talking about me at the water cooler."
[Whether being talked about at the Coke machine is worse than getting talked about talking at the water cooler is a question Shellenbarger doesn't answer. I suggest you talk about it at the beer machine at the Kit Kat Klub, and get back to me.]
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