Nothing feels more satisfying than meeting someone and hearing, No way! Me too! We love finding like-minded people who share similar thoughts or interests. We are hard-wired to live and interact in community. We need our tribes! It is also normal for us to seek commonality in our complaints and seek people who we can gripe with (just check out Facebook). Let’s face it – complaining feels good. The mere act of expressing our grumbles and grievances can bring an emotional release and catharsis, and there is plenty of research to demonstrate the wellness of expression.
However, there is a distinction between expressing our dissatisfaction and admiring our problems. Problem admiration occurs when we voice the same concerns over and over to multiple people. In a professional setting, this can be a natural occurrence. Organizations rarely get it right as often as we would hope and our institutions both public and private give us plenty to complain about. When we feel strongly about our complaint, we will recruit colleagues to adopt our perspectives and expressions of dissatisfaction until we hear these satisfying words - YOU.ARE.RIGHT! I think this is a problem too. Let me add my two cents… And voila! Problem admiration has magically begun.
Behind every complaint is a request and often that request is to be heard. I have found that people will show a strong fidelity to problem admiration until the right questions are asked. It is also important to note that we cannot collectively rely on a shared knowledge of the obvious. We have to ask basic questions and provide simple responses. For instance:
If we cannot get to the bottom of the request behind a complaint, individuals can stay in a circular mindset of problem admiration. There has to be a pattern interrupt, and simple provoking questions can often be a magic wand.
In closing, sometimes all the right questions are asked and we are still not ready to move beyond our complaints. Problem admiration can be less toxic when we know we are consciously choosing it. Sometimes we just need to stay mad one more day and admire the tar out of something before we choose the act of courage and move on or let go.
What problems are you admiring?
Leaders will often spend time and enormous energy anticipating certain team member reactions. It can be a peer or a direct report. PowerPoint decks are babied and brushed until they gleam. Drive times to and from work are spent rehearing the communication plan. Precious hours with an executive coach or confidante are used to untangle the thinking to get prepared and to think through every scenario. When all is said and done – sometimes the effort does not pay off.
I will often ask a client to tell me the names of their antagonists. The list is usually short. Only a few people are the hole-pokers, wearing devil advocate badges. Just saying their names aloud creates awareness of whom they are actually working for – and it is not always the boss. It is not uncommon for the majority of a leader’s audience to be neutral or supportive. Thus the question, what does the majority need?
So often leaders spend a greater percentage of their time on a small percentage of their people. That small percentage rarely gets a leader out of bed every day. What would it look and feel like if the tables turned? What if the majority of your neutral and quiet supporters got at least 80% of your time and attention? What if the agenda is created for them?
Would a PowerPoint deck with carefully worded bullet points even be necessary? Would the meeting need to be two hours long, followed by multiple emails of supporting documentation?
Good preparation, communication, and follow through are always useful leadership competencies when they serve the majority. There will be times when you cannot avoid the effort. Yet, I believe at least 50% of the time, an antagonist is driving the agenda and the leaders involved may not notice or name the phenomenon.
Every leader needs someone who will ask the hard questions and ensure details are covered. Those individuals serve the work well. However, there is a difference between allowing those types of questions to emerge versus letting them set the agenda. In theory, an unaddressed antagonist always wins.
Who drives your agenda? How do you know?
Carrie Arnold, PhD, MCC, BCC
In no particular order: Author | Dog mom to Moose | Speaker| Reader Mom to human offspring Wife | Lover of Learning Leadership coach & consultant, The Willow Group | Fellow, Institute for Social Innovation