I hear it often from clients: “Is there anything you can do to stop the complaining and venting that consumes so much energy at the team meetings?” “Can’t people just move on?”
I totally understand the frustration leaders have with their team in times of change. As a coach, I also know that folks have to go through this ‘whining’ phase to be able to work through it. Substitute the word ‘whining’ (which is judgmental), with the word ‘grief’, or ‘sadness’, or ‘anxiety’, or ‘fear’, or ‘resentment’. They’re experiencing one, or a combination of, these emotions as a result of a disruptive change to their professional or personal life, especially when initiated by somebody else. In the end, each human has her/his own particular way of moving through life, and any disruption of that flow, represents a loss, one that will be challenged.
What I’ve also come to appreciate is that most humans have a strong need to ‘talk it out’ with someone, as part of their recovery process.
Yes, some people do the rumination inside and retreat into a solitary shell. Those are the ones we should be most concerned about. This withdrawal may be a cry for help and a signal that their mental health is in jeopardy.
All too often, however, we’re fixated on the ones that do their venting loudly and frequently. These folks are branded as ‘Resistors’, ‘Difficult’ or even ‘Trouble Makers’. But are they really? What if they were simply working through their pain? What if ignoring their questions and challenges turned them into the very Resistors we go to great lengths to avoid?
All We Need Is P.A.T.I.E.N.C.E
Patience may be the biggest virtue a leader needs to develop in times of change and transformation; that and big ears, to listen to the broken records of loss and fear.
Let me spell out the ways in which I’ve learned (and am still learning), to have patience with myself and others, to help in recovery from loss:
- P for patience with the process. All the literature on change underlines the very predictable phases of human transition. Complaining, objecting, crying out and crying period are definitely part of it. Let’s patiently accept this.
- A for attention. Ignoring the expression of loss won’t make it go away. ‘There goes Cynthia or Stuart on their ‘woe are me’ rant again (eye roll), let’s pretend we’re not hearing or let’s ask them to move on”. This tactic is guaranteed to alienate Cynthia and Stuart, and everyone within earshot. Focus your attention on them instead of running away.
- T is for timing. Holding a team building session to focus on the bright future when most are still in mourning, is a recipe for disaster. Timing is everything. Acknowledge the pain first.
- I is for individual response. No one size fits all. Every individual will react differently, even when faced with the same change. A leader will need to focus on each member of his or her team.
- E is for expression. Folks need to ‘talk it out’, vent, and grumble to work through their feelings. A leader will want to provide opportunities for followers to do so, and, when the timing is right, help move the yardstick: Given this situation (acknowledge), what do we want instead (gentle nod to the future possibilities)?
- N is for Nearness. One reflex when faced with criticism and negativity may be to isolate yourself as a leader or distance yourself from the weeping masses. If you are more certain of the future, more confident in the team’s ability to move forward, you need, on the contrary, to be very near and present. Your energy will ooze out of your pores and have a positive impact. Hang in there!
- C is for Confidence that this too, shall pass. It’s a phase, not a state. Most of us come out the other side. We get fed up with being in Pity City and start to move naturally towards the light. It’s in our nature as the resilient creatures that we are. Be confident that your team is on the right track.
- E is for end. Patience does have an end. When you’ve done everything you can to facilitate this process and support individuals moving through the loss; when you have a critical mass of folks ready to take on the challenge of the New, then it’s time to end the ending and welcome the new beginning.
Here is to Patience, with self and others!