Discover the techniques you can use to help your employees better understand how to tackle – and not just complain about — problems.

Nobody likes complainers — the people who always have something negative to say. And in the workplace, constant complaints have negative consequences that reach into multiple areas of productivity, camaraderie, leadership and culture. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.

This is why it’s important to understand how to turn these bad apples into applesauce — in other words, how to turn complainers into problem solvers. The techniques outlined below can help you and your employees better understand how to tackle problems.

For instance, let’s say you’ve assigned the lead role on a project team to one of your employees. A teammate, Mario, is working hard to steal their thunder. They’ve tried addressing it with Mario, to no avail.

They want to be treated fairly, and they want to complain, but they know that won’t get results. Running to you and saying, “Anna, you told me to take the lead on this project, but Mario stole it from me,” is going to make them sound like a whiner and someone who can’t work well in teams. Instead, let’s turn this complaint situation into an opportunity.

Instead, they should go to you and say: “Anna, I’m excited to be working on this new project. The whole team is energized. In fact, Mario has started to take the lead on the project reporting and seems to be enjoying it. Is that OK with you? And, if so, what’s something else I can take the lead on?” or “And, if so, is it OK if I take over the creative side of the project?”

See the difference? They’re not complaining — they’re stating the facts. They’re presenting the problem, and then they’re asking for help with figuring out a solution or presenting a possible solution. In fact, that’s the three-step format you can teach your employees for turning any complaint into a problem/ solution presentation.

Step one: state the relevant facts
Present the facts needed for someone to understand the situation and provide any necessary context. If there are opinions involved, make sure your employees own them, but are trying to keep them at a minimum unless they’re directly relevant to the problem at hand or the situation they want changed.

Step two: present the situation or problem
As in the example above, the fact was that Mario was taking over your lead employee’s assigned responsibility. The situation or problem is that your team leader now has no clear responsibility and they need one. This step also involves outlining any measures they’ve taken to solve the problem themselves. For example, if they were trying to figure out the proper protocol for requesting professional development funds and had already consulted the employee handbook and couldn’t find the answer, they’d want to let you know that they’d had already taken that action. This demonstrates that they’ve been proactive in trying to find a solution before coming to you.

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