Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


Stop Complaining: Learn to Speak Up!

A colleague asked me for help. She was tired of listening to her friend complain about work and wanted to know how to stop the steady stream of negative comments.

Her friend was a “Complainer.” Complainers don’t confront, but gripe to others about their situations. Complaining can be draining to both the complainer and the person hearing the comments. Unfortunately, lots of people complain.

One woman quit a good job because her boss was overloading her with projects. She never said anything to the boss; she only complained to her coworkers. Later when the boss found out why his employee quit, he asked: “If she was having a problem, why didn’t she say something to me?”

I suggested to my colleague that she could encourage her friend to speak up, and provided six steps as a starting point for a complainer to follow:

1. Understand the consequence of not saying something. Wishing things will change won’t accomplish anything. If you don’t speak up, three things can occur: your situation won’t change, your relationship with the person will suffer, and you’ll end up feeling bad about yourself for tolerating a difficult situation. Your professional reputation may also be diminished if you get labeled a “complainer.”

2. Identify what’s going to solve the problem. Know what’s going to make your situation better. Be reasonable and realistic. Anticipate any objections and how to respond.

3. Practice what you want to say, including asking for what you want. The more you practice, the less nervous you will be when you say something. You can also role play the confrontation with a friend.

4. Pick a good time and place. You confront in private, when you are calm and when it’s a good time for the other person.

5. Pay attention to your nonverbals. Use open body language, no pointing or pounding. Speak calmly and directly, without a harsh tone to your voice.

6. Review. After you have had your discussion with the person, evaluate what happened. What worked and what would you do differently next time?

Additional information on speaking up can be obtained from my book, The Power of Positive Confrontation.

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