Do. Or Whine Not.

She just loves to complain. It seems to be her purpose in life.  And most of what she whines about, she can’t — or won’t — do anything about.

You know who I’m talking about.  You can put a face to that description, can’t you?  Are you anywhere near as frustrated about her (or him — don’t want to be sexist here) as I am?

Now, a certain amount of venting about the troubles of the world, or the workplace, or life, is normal.  Emotions are a part of life, and thus a part of the workplace (even though our culture likes to pretend they’re not.)

But after a small amount of appropriate venting, dwelling quickly becomes wasted breath and wasted time.  You can ream her for her useless negativity (and I’m sure you’re tempted), but you don’t, because you know it won’t do any good.

But maybe you can find a way to get her to see the light ….

Here’s a great, nonjudgmental tool to offer her.  It’s Stephen Covey’s Circles of Influence and Concern, from the classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Draw a large circle on a piece of flip chart paper (or the largest piece of paper you can find).  This will be your “circle of concern.”

Then draw a smaller, concentric circle within the larger one.  (Make it about three-quarters the size of the larger circle.)  This will be your “circle of influence.”

Leadership is about moving your concerns further inside your circle of influence.

Take small sticky notes, and write on each one a subject of concern:  something you’re not happy with, for yourself, your workplace, your family, your community, the world, whatever.  Then place those stickies in appropriate places within your circles of concern and influence:

  • If you’re in action to remedy a “concern,” doing as much as you possibly can, put that particular sticky smack in the middle of your circle of influence.
  • If you ain’t doin’ squat about your concern (except whining), put that sticky way out toward the edge of your circle of concern, far outside your circle of influence.
  • If you’re taking a little action, but not as much as you could, put that sticky just barely inside the perimeter of your circle of influence, but not close to the center.

Leadership is about … (there are many profound ways to complete that sentence; here’s one) … diligently moving those stickies closer to the center of your circle of influence.

That second bullet point above?  That’s where the evil she is whom I referenced above.  Wasted breath, wasted time, wasted life energy.  Challenge her to try the exercise above.  What’s in it for her?  Look, her experience of life is a product of what she pays attention to.  If all she pays attention to is bad stuff she can’t (or won’t) do anything about, her life is going to look pretty dismal.  But if she stops paying attention to intractable problems, and starts paying attention to what’s possible, her own life will take on a more hopeful, positive, meaningful tone.

Now excuse me while I go complain bitterly and ceaselessly to my wife about her sister, who always only sees the dark side of life…

YOUR PATH FORWARD:  Do the exercise above with the stickies.  Then:

  • create a plan of action for moving a few of those most nagging stickies closer in to the center of your circle of influence, and
  • decide which stickies represent concerns you can’t influence, and move them all the way outside your circle of concern — they’re not worth paying attention to.

For more info on building influence as a leader, check out Plank 6: Building Influence, in our book The Leadership Platform.

About the Author

Steve Motenko
Steve Motenko is an executive coach, leadership trainer, and co-host of The Boss Show, a weekly podcast on workplace dynamics. Steve and his Boss Show co-host, Jim Hessler, are co-authors of Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guide to Building Your Leadership Platform. Steve lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, with his wife and dog, whom he loves, and a cat he tolerates usually pretty well.

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