Power Questions that Turn Complainers into Problem Solvers

Julie Shenkman
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Here she comes again into the office to complain. First it was about everyone else abusing their breaks, and then she accused you of playing favorites by not honoring her seniority, now she’s unhappy with the rotation. You think to yourself: what now?

Some complaints are valid and others are annoying. One of the biggest stresses on management is the squeaky wheel that never gets enough grease. If you have one of these noisy irritants you can transform your troublemaker into a problem solver by asking these power questions:

• Does everyone else feel the same?
• What do you suggest?
• Are you willing to write up a proposal with your ideas?

Suppose you are a supervisor in a manufacturing department and “Connie Complainer” comes to you with the grievance that the rotation is unfair.You rack your brain and it seems that there is no solution.

Before shooting from the hip and saying “I haven’t heard anyone else complain,” instead try the power question, “Does everyone else feel the same?” This positions you as a good listener and you might just get valuable information. If others are secretly complaining, it’s to your benefit to be aware.

Perhaps Connie is the only one with the guts to approach you. If so, Connie can be a great resource of information for you. After all, if everyone is complaining and you don’t know it, there will be repercussions. However, if no one else is complaining, now you have narrowed it down to one person’s problem and you can work with that person to find a solution for her or him.

The second gut reaction when a worker complains is “There’s nothing I can do.” And perhaps from your viewpoint, that is the reality. A better approach is the power question: “What do you suggest?” Now you are teaching your employees to think like problem solvers, giving them ownership of the process. You might be surprised how creative your employees can be if given the chance to help you with the solutions. The beauty of this question is that it eliminates the chronic complaining and takes the monkey off of your back.

The benefit is that you present yourself as open minded instead of controlling or power hungry. If it is a question of policy, where there really is nothing you personally can do, educate your employee as to the policy and direct him or her to the appropriate person.

One way to document and keep track of complaints and suggestions is to ask the third power question: “Are you willing to write up a proposal with your ideas?” This is an excellent way to develop leadership in someone who otherwise might be contrary. How far is that person willing to go when asked to make a real commitment to helping solve the problem? Is she willing to put her ideas to paper or make an informal presentation? If so, then you have given her the opportunity to develop leadership skills and take ownership of the problem.

Be prompt in your follow up once your employee has written the proposal, otherwise it hurts your credibility and you risk losing trust. Strategic use of these questions puts you in the driver’s seat and empowers your employees to being a part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

About the Author: Marlene Chism M.A. is a relationship development expert who helps businesses stop the drama so that teamwork and productivity can soar. Sign up for free tips at http://www.stopyourdrama.com or call 1. 888.434.9085 to interview Marlene.

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