4 Steps to Help Whiners Get Unstuck

Truck stuck in KenyaTwo years ago I was in Kenya doing some volunteer work when our van got stuck in the mud on the way to visit one of the local schools. We tried everything to get unstuck but nothing worked. We needed help.

In the workplace as well as other areas of our lives, we sometimes encounter people who apparently are stuck in the mode of complaining and unwilling to move toward resolution.  I have discovered a simple process to help complainers move from whining to action.

1. Hear them out. First, hear them out one more time. When they complain again—and you know they will—take the time to listen to them, giving them your full attention and energy. It is best to do this in a private setting where neither of you will be distracted.

2. Summarize their issue. Next, when you are sure that you understand the problem at hand and the other person feels heard, interrupt them if necessary and gently say, “Let me make sure I fully understand.” Restate the situation and their frustration as you see it. For example, if they have been complaining about being micromanaged, you might say, “What I’m hearing is that you are frustrated because your boss is micromanaging you.” Get their agreement to your summary—but do not let them continue with their rant.

3. Help them consider their options. Now ask this magic question: “Understanding that this is the situation, what are your options?” In a best-case scenario, they will have some ideas and you can help them come up with an action plan. Chances are, however, that they are too stuck to think of any options. If so, lead with some ideas of your own and solicit their feedback. Either way, help them consider their options and decide on their next steps.

4. Make them accountable for next steps. To add an element of accountability, at the end of the conversation summarize the agreed-upon action plan. Ask the person when they plan to take the first step and set up a date and time to check in with them

What do you do if, despite all your efforts, the other person refuses to move on and seems as if they want to stay stuck?

At this point, I suggest a few options:

  • Try to help them understand the effect being stuck is having on them and on those around them. Hopefully, you can stir them to action.
  • Refer them to someone else for counseling. Perhaps the HR department has some options for them.
  • Remember to take care of yourself. It may be time to ask yourself: Is this relationship worth the emotional drain I experience each time we are together?

I hope these thoughts help you to move others to action. Let me know any other ideas you have to help others get unstuck.

About the author:

John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in performance and self-leadership.  You can read John’s posts on the second Thursday of each month.

8 thoughts on “4 Steps to Help Whiners Get Unstuck

  1. I’ve always been a big fan of the GROW Model (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GROW_model) and find it fascinating how it can be applicable in many situations, coaching conversations, etc. and not just setting goals – like dealing with whiners. Essentially the same concepts: set a Goal for the conversation, discuss the Reality (a.k.a. allow the whiner to ‘vent’), come up with Options, and commit to a Way forward. I’ve used it time and time again with teams at work and even in my personal life–definitely helps people focus on what’s in their control, become “unstuck” and move forward!

  2. John, great steps for getting whiners moving again. I like how you also included what to do if the steps don’t work. We know not everyone will do what needs to be done and just wants to whine.

  3. John, I liked your approach to a difficult situation. I have a friend that continually drags up her unhappy past, one she cannot change or fix or confront the people she’s feels are responsible for her unhappiness and anger. Some of us make more effort to hold on to our problems than in letting them go or solving them. Sometimes we use conflict to comfort ourselves because we won’t let ourselves be comforted any other way. I know a lot of this distress comes from an unhappy childhood and 2 hard marriages. I try to direct her to what is positive in her life now. How happy she’s been on her mission and what she’s accomplished. Rebecca

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