This is my first year being a manager I am struggling on how to deal with “complaints” from my directs. There is a balance of listening to your directs’ concerns vs allowing them to vent in a team meeting as an example. I want to be an open minded manager and allow them to express frustrations, but working for a big company there are times when processes can be frustrating and perhaps not as efficient as we might want them to be. Sometimes, my directs’ will openly use this as an excuse openly in team meetings as to why they are not hitting their goals or initiatives that I have set out. I have recently started to say that I prefer they suggest a solution with an issue or complaint, and if it is more of a venting session to save that for a 1x1. I want to prevent rat holes and these complaints can suck the energy and motivation from the group. At the same time, what I don’t want is for them to feel like I am not willing to hear them out or hear their concerns. There must be a balance and I am sure some of you more experienced managers have thoughts on this topic. Happy Holidays!

svibanez's picture

Tasking them with providing at least one recommended solution with their complaint forces them to think about whether the complaint is even valid.  This will develop their problem-solving skills and free you up to solve problems they truly cannot solve on their own.

Best of luck to you!

Steve I

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naraa's picture

 Someone in a forum discussion gave a useful tip on how to differentiate excuses from reasons.  Excuses come in after the failure, reasons come in before the failure.  Do not accept excuses.  Force people to come with the concerns ahead of time and they offer your help to work with them to the solution, either making it easier for them by connecting them to the right people, highlighting something they are concern with is not really an issue, etc.

Don't let them vent out even in one-on-ones.  I agree with the recommendation, train your people to come up with a solution.

When people that I manage come to me with a complain I acknowledge their input but don't let them drag on with it.  I draw a big circle on the board, then a little one within the big circle.  Then I draw an arrow from the small into the bigger circle and say they should stop doing that, that is, pointing the problem outside their zone of influence.  I then draw an arrow from the small circle back into the small circle and say they must point the solution within their own area of action and by doing so and only by doing so their area of action will eventually grow.

Reduce, reuse, recycle.  Most things can get done, and do get done elsewhere with a lot less resources and a bit more creativity.  And the thing that drives creativity is necessity.  Impossible is nothing.  Be open to concerns by letting people contribute to the plan (the plan not necessarily the goals, you can set the goals, in fact they maybe set for you), once the plan is set do not accept excuses.

There are two recent podcasts on owning the inputs which may help.  And there are some as well on goal setting which talk precisely about setting "impossible" goals. See if you can find them with the search.



jomicn776's picture

 Hi Kaylyn -

I think that being persistent in using your Manager Tools processes will be key. The MT podcasts on meetings (setting timed agenda and using a parking lot) can assist you in acknowledging yet disuading off topic complaining. The one on ones, over time, should reduce this behavior as well as your directs get the idea that you have a set time to hear them out.

Pre-existing culture takes time to change. Being predictable in how you handle your staff will decrease the general frustration. Last year I took 8 directs on this journey and in December I took over a new group of 50 (yes, really, 50 directs). I'm writing this to myself as well - it takes some time. Be persistent.

Good luck!


GlennR's picture


I agree with nearly everything said above. I've been where you are and I actually wrote a blog post several months ago that you might find useful (see the second bullet).

I do differ on venting. I'd rather directs vent to me than to others because I can use that venting to discover useful feedback (sometimes) and to redirect or reframe it into more useful paths. I used to supervise 10 field managers. I joked that my voice mail said, "Press one if you want empathy, press two if you want solutions." Sometimes they only wanted to vent (and this did not degenerate into whining). Because I listened to their concerns it strengthened our relationships. But that venting occurred in private, not in meetings.

I would urge you to really master this issue. It will make you a much more effective manager. The fastest way to do that is to do as JOMICN776 suggests and use the MT processes.

Good luck!



Kaylyn022's picture

Just a quick note to say thanks for all of your input! I am a big fan of the Manager Tools podcasts and have learned so much in just the few months I have been listening. All of your posts have been valuable and encouraging; I really appreciate the time you took to write them. I also read your article Glenn and it was a great read. I look forward to implementing your suggestions.

Thanks again,