Thank God It's Monday™ e-zine by Roxanne Emmerich
Forward to a friend Issue: 99
October 11, 2010
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Dear Roxanne,
I know you're not a fan of whining, but I wonder: Is all whining created equal? It seems to me that sometimes, a well-made complaint can get things back on track. Maybe that wouldn't really be whining, but I wondered if you could speak to that.

- Brandi W.

Dear Brandi,
True whining is a complaint delivered with no intention of solving the problem it whines about. But if a whine contains the seeds of a solution, you're right—it really can be a positive thing. In fact, NOT whining when you really SHOULD be is just plain wrong. I've written this week's column to show you what I mean.

- Roxanne

Do you have a question about how to handle a situation or a relationship in the workplace? Ask Roxanne!


The Right Timing for Workplace Whining

I do believe my position is clear on whining in the workplace. I'm against it. The very thought of someone cutting loose with a self-serving, rattle-shaking, get-me-a-teething-ring whine makes me want to call the sitter, walk out the door, and put myself in the company of actual adults.

But there's one kind of "whine" that's GOOD for productivity.

I'm not talking about the serial whiner or compulsive excuse-maker, of course—that kind of whine is usually an indication that the person has not aligned his or her personal plan with the company's interests and is busily boohooing about that fact. And it's especially galling because it usually happens after it's too late to do anything about the situation.

But a little complaining before things go wrong, or even WHILE things are going wrong, can actually be a good thing. Let's call it the right kind of whining.

The right kind of whine happens when a team member has her eye on the ball so well that she notices a project going off the rails before it's too late—and points it out in no uncertain terms to her team, herself, and even her boss, nagging and insisting until the project is back on the rails.

Positive complaining calls it tight, insists on deadlines, rejects excuses. Positive complaining doesn't say, "It's not my fault—I sent an email last week and never heard back." It picks up the phone. It walks down the hall and knocks on office doors until it gets answers. Heck, it camps out on doorsteps. It won't take silence for an answer. It cares enough to be a pain in the neck.

Think about that.

We've all known this person. We're in the middle of a planning process, we know there are wrinkles to be ironed out, yeah yeah, but we want to keep moving—and there's one person who simply refuses to move on until a certain problem is addressed. It can really get under your skin.

But deep down you can often hear that little voice saying, "She's right, you know. You KNOW she's right." Am I right?

Annoying? Sure it is, even if she IS right. It's much easier for everyone to keep their feet up on the dashboard as the company veers slowly but surely into the ditch. But a complaint that's insisting on the objective and refusing to take excuses—well, that's a whine well worth serving up.


What Kind of Whine Do YOU Serve?

Most whiners tend toward one side of the spectrum or the other. To figure out which way you tend to go, think about the last few times you complained to a co-worker. Ask yourself:

  • Were they after-the-fact complaints, or before-the-fact attempts to keep things on track?
  • Did they lead to positive results—or just get something off your chest?
  • Did they enhance your reputation as a contributor and problem-solver—or diminish it?

If your answers indicate a tendency to pointless, unproductive whining, it's never too late to shift gears—and to encourage others to do the same.

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Ask Roxanne!
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Uncommon Sense
Whine Productively
Next time you're deep in a project and you feel it going off the rails, step out of your comfort zone and needle, cajole, and nudge your teammates back on track!
Let me know how it goes!

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