Yesterday, I covered why complaining is dangerous to your career. That said, it’s important to understand the fine line between communicating and complaining, because one can hurt your career while the other can enhance it.
One of the most critical skills for employees seeking to grow professionally is communication. Sometimes, it’s necessary to communicate about negative things. Perhaps you need to tell your boss about an abusive co-worker. Maybe as a manager, you need to deal with an employee who messed up an entire product line.
Excellent communicators know that even when they’re dealing with negative subjects, they can keep things positive through what they say and how they say it. You can communicate professionally and make sure you don’t cross the line into the complaining zone by following these tips.
1. Prepare first. When you don’t take time to prepare your thoughts, it’s easy for communication about negative things to become complaining. Think of yourself as a politician who has bad news to deliver to the media – you wouldn’t go into it without well thought out points. Take the time to sort out your ideas, cool off if necessary and prepare your comments before taking on a conversation about a not-so-happy subject.
2. Communicate formally. Most gripe sessions are spontaneous, unplanned, secret and informal. To keep yourself from falling into the complaint trap when it’s time to bring up something negative, do so formally with an in-person meeting.
3. Don’t make it personal. This one is tricky, especially when other people are involved. But you should avoid making things personal when dealing with a negative situation. Otherwise, you’ll become too emotional and won’t be able to handle the situation with a level head. To keep things professional on the job, discuss issues, not people.
4. Discuss the problem briefly. Make sure you outline the basic issue, but don’t give more than a few minutes to communicate it, or you will end up in the midst of a gripe session. If you’re talking to someone else involved in the situation, you will need to take responsibility for limiting this part of the discussion, or you may find yourself dragged down a long path of negativity.
5. Focus on solutions. To keep the conversation grounded and to avoid getting personal, focus on talking about solutions, outcomes and opportunities. Sometimes, worst case scenarios are opportunities in disguise. Talk about what positive changes can be made or what needs to be done to address the situation fully.
6. Follow through. Because it’s a self-serving, emotional process, complaining rarely results in action. It usually starts and ends with negativity. To make sure your hard work and effort in addressing a bad situation properly don’t end up getting lumped in with complaining, follow through on your proposed solutions with actions to change things for the better.
7. Be positive. People often say that complaining is contagious, but positive communication is as well. No matter what negative things are going on, put a smile on your face and focus on the positive aspects of your work, life, co-workers, family and employers. You will realize that thinking positively changes your perspective and helps you communicate rather than complain – and it rubs off on the people around you, too.
Have you ever been in a situation where you found yourself complaining when you were trying to communicate? How do you make sure you stay professional and avoid workplace negativity?