A Tip for Ending Complaints

Have you ever wanted to reduce, if not end, unproductive complaints?  One way to do that is to implement a policy that people only complain to those who can do something about the complaint.

Complaints are prevalent in organizations.  People complain about the weather, about their work, about their coworkers, and about their boss(es).  Although some complaints may seem innocuous, complaining contributes to a culture of negativism, lowers morale and satisfaction, gets people upset or angry, and adds to resignation and cynicism.  Complaints act like depressants, particularly when they are expressed to people who really can’t do anything about them.

But some complaints can be productive if they are directed to the right people.  Properly directed complaints can improve processes, products, and customer service.  They can lead to and support change and be a source of innovation.

If you want to increase the number of productive complaints (and reduce the number of unproductive ones), create a policy where you ask people to direct their complaints to someone who can do something about it.  If you are the someone, then listen up.  However, if you aren’t, then let them know immediately they have the wrong person and then either direct them to the right person or ask them to find out who the right person is.  This will reduce the number of complaints you listen to and train people to being accountable for their complaints.

Tiger’s Apology – A Complete Closure Conversation?

Tiger Wood’s recently addressed the world to apologize for his marital infidelity.  If you watched the apology, you could tell that it was not easy for him.  He was clearly ill at ease, unsure of himself, nervous, and at times, upset.  For someone who values his privacy, this was difficult.

In terms of The Four Conversations, Tiger’s address was a closure conversation.   The primary purpose of closure conversations is to create endings by completing something from the past.  It could be to complete an outstanding promise, it could be to report the status of a project, it could be to acknowledging that you received something that was sent to you, or it could be to own up to something you did, as in Tiger’s case.  Closure conversations, when done completely can be very powerful because they make it possible to “move on”.  When they are done poorly, however, they only add to the mess they are trying to address.

Closure conversations involve 4-A’s, though not all four are used in every conversation: acknowledge the facts, appreciate the people, apologize for mistakes and misunderstandings, and amend broken agreements.  How did Tiger do on each of these?

Acknowledge the facts, say what’s so.  Tiger clearly acknowledged that he had been unfaithful, that he had cheated.  Although we already knew this, this was the first time Tiger acknowledged the facts, the first time he “came clean”.  What he did not do, however, was acknowledge the extent or degree of his cheating.  How many women had he cheated with?  Were the reports in the press exaggerated, or were they accurate?  By not addressing these, he left questions that will haunt him in the future.  He did not have to provide the sordid details, only acknowledge something about the extent of his affairs.

Appreciate the people.  Tiger was clearly appreciative of and spoke well of his wife Elin and who she has been through all of this.  He was also appreciative of the people who have sent him emails, letters, etc. in support.  What could have made this even more powerful would have been had he appreciated the people who “blew the whistle” on him.  By not doing so, we are left with the impression that had he not been caught, he would have continued doing what he was doing.  If, as he says, he has no one to blame for the shame but himself, then the women who went public did him a service by giving him an opportunity to transform his life.  Not pretty, but a service nevertheless.  It would have been extraordinary for him to do this.

Apologize for mistakes and misunderstandings.  This was the whole point of Tiger’s address, to apologize.  He did a good job of saying what he did that was wrong, and what he felt contributed to doing it (“I had worked hard all my life and thought I deserved…”).

Amend broken agreements.  Amending broken agreements begins with recognizing an agreement has been broken and reporting on its breakage to those involved.  Tiger broke agreements with Elin his wife, his sponsors, friends, and fans.  He betrayed their trust and confidence and owned up to having done so.  He also tried to address some of the costs and consequences of breaking these agreements, but I don’t think he came even close to dealing with the true cost.  He did, however, acknowledge that regaining people’s trust would take time and would involve a change in his future behavior.  Finally, amending broken agreements requires committing (promising) to a new future.  Tiger did that by saying he would continue therapy, that he would need help, and that he was promising to be a better person.

Was Tiger successful?  He seemed to have done a good job in terms of having a complete closure conversation.  It seems clear to me that just having the conversation completed things for Tiger and cleared some space for him to move forward, which is the intent of such conversations.  Did he satisfy everyone?  Probably not.

No Response Leads to Resentment

A former student of mine sent me the link to a great blog article posted by Fast Company entitled “2010: The Year of Saying ‘I Got It’ “.  The focus of the article, written by Lynette Chiang,  is how companies, as well as individuals, have gotten into the habit of not responding to inquiries – they don’t tell you “I got it”.  Telling people you received what they sent you, or that you got their message, is a closure conversation and it completes something for them.  As the author of the article points out, when we don’t know if the person we are corresponding with received what we sent them, it creates uncertainty, leads to resentment, a loss of trust, and damages your reputation.

Most of us have experiences similar to those reported by Lynette.  I once order some electronic marketing materials online with a “money back guarantee”.  When I downloaded it and found it did give me what I wanted,  I emailed and called the seller – multiple times.  At no time did he respond (sorry, I don’t remember the  seller’s name), so I finally contacted my credit card company, went through their processes, and eventually got my money back. Interestingly, even though I don’t remember the seller, I do remember one of the people who endorsed him (whom I also contacted and who didn’t respond) and I will no longer consider his products either.  Unfortunately, not only do the people who “don’t respond” hurt themselves, they cast a shadow of doubt over everyone else in the business.

But “no response” is not limited just to businesses.  How many people do you send replies to when they send you something important?  How many people tell you when they got the report, the email, the proposal, or any number of other things you invested in providing them?  Is your opinion of them higher or lower as a result?

Telling people “I got it” does not take much.  Telling people “I got it” is a simple closure conversation, but it  makes a world of difference to them and to your reputation.  Tell people “I got it” and see what happens.


What the Absence of Accountability Sounds Like

I have been doing some research in preparation for a workshop on personal accountability a colleague and I are doing for MBA’s at the Fisher College.  As I have been getting into it, I am beginning to notice more about what the absence of accountability sounds like when people talk.  Consider the following example.

The other day I was changing a light bulb in my basement work area.  One of the screws holding the cover on the light was tight, so used a screwdriver to loosen it.  When I was finished with the screwdriver, I threw it down onto the workbench (I was on a stepladder), where it hit and scattered some small ceramic tiles I had been removing from a table made by Laurie’s dad.  I found all the tiles except one and was upset because its loss would mean the table could not be restored in its original form.

When I went upstairs to tell Laurie, my first thought was to say “The screwdriver knocked a bunch of tiles off the workbench, and now I can’t find one.”  And that’s when I noticed how the absence of accountability sounds – there is no “I” in the action of what happened.  My initial thought made the screwdriver accountable for the lost tile, not me.  I was the one who threw the screwdriver and my having done that accounts for why the tiles were scattered.

As I thought more about this one example, I began to notice how many places I leave off any mention of “I” when things happen, as if they happened on their own accord and I was simply an observer.  You know, stuff like “The cup feel off the dish drying rack and broke” rather than “I hit the cup and knocked it on the floor.”  The more I considered explanations for things that I have something to do with, the more I realized that the key word missing in those explanations was “I” and what “I” did that produced the result – good, bad, or ugly.

Perhaps you have noticed the same thing when people give explanations – there is no “I” in what they say except, possibly, when it is something good.  Check it out.  Listen to the explanations you and others give and see when there is an absence of accountability.  Let me know what you discover.