Managing Murmurs

As we dropped 4-year old Sierra at school this morning, one of her fellow-classmates stood in the playground uttering a robotic, staccato chorus that sounded like this:

I. Don’t. Want. To. Go. To. School.

It was funny in a sad sort of way. I remember being that little boy a lifetime ago, but, in truth, the last word could have been anything, like maybe BED, CHURCH or BATH, anywhere I didn’t particularly wish to be at the time.

While I listened to the boy and my mind took me back 40 years, I walked passed a mother who had just dropped off her child in the same recess yard. As she neared, I could see that her eyes were closed and she was shaking her head. Then I heard her say distinctly:

I. Don’t. Want. To. Go. To. Work.

Now I'm all sad, too!

I laughed all the way up until the time I said goodbye to Sierra a moment later. But Sierra didn’t want to say “Goodbye.” She hugged my leg and wouldn’t let go. Then she started a soft whimper, a little murmur that said, “I. Don’t. Want. To. Go. To. School.”

The job of a leader is not very different from the job of a parent when it comes to dealing with the disgruntled. Either you pay attention to issues when they are small and easily managed…or you’re going to have a chorus of complainer and whiners on your hands.

The parent I walked passed demonstrated how a complaint can pick up momentum and cause others to say, “Yeah, my life stinks, too!” And Sierra’s behavior shows how it happens at work every day when people say, “Yeah, come to think of it, I’m not happy, either!”

Don’t allow the complaint of one to rub off on others until the members of the dissatisfied caucus grow into a mutinous lot.

Managers, don’t tolerate ranting complaints from your employees. Encourage talking and even venting. Have an expectation that they will come talk out any issues they have, and be willing to find a solution. But let it be known that spreading a bad attitude or a general spirit of discontent won’t be tolerated.

Managers and employees, don’t tolerate moanings or murmurs from your coworkers. Yes, you want to listen respectfully and kindly. As author/speaker Marlene Chism suggests, give the person 5 minutes to vent. Then interrupt them. Five minutes is long enough to show you care, but it’s not long enough to make the other person’s issues your own! Isn’t life heavy enough without you owning every gripe of those around you.

Another way to remember how to deal with complaints is to apply the advise from TV character, Barney Fife,  who suggested “You’ve got to nip it in the bud!

Next time someone whines, moans or groans around you, walk away—if that someone is not your child or employee. But if that someone is your child or employee, listen for a few minutes. Empathize. Redirect. Then

walk away. “Nip it in the bud.” Keep it from becoming contagious.

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