Getting work done through others is exhausting when your team is full of complainers. They come to you with problems, rather than solutions, and find creative ways to engage their co-workers in their negativity.

Cheryl, the chief operations officer of a technology company on the west coast was so frustrated with negative “water cooler” conversations that she considered firing a bunch of them.

“They stand around talking about who might lose their jobs, rather actually doing their job,” Cheryl told me, “They need to focus so we can get through this.”

As a result of recent changes in the market, employees had good reason to be concerned. Rather than waste any more energy thinking about which employees to get rid of, Cheryl focused heavily on the following 7 strategies that ultimately replaced complaining with a renewed commitment throughout her organization in just six weeks.

Here’s what she did, in no particular order:

  1. Address the Elephants. In almost all cases, fear really is False Evidence Appearing Real. When fears are not brought to the forefront, they silently destroy trust, and hinder productivity.
  2. Co-create. People support the thing they help to create. If you’re in the middle of a difficult transition, get their ideas and suggestions for how to move forward.
  3. This might sound ridiculous, particularly during crunch time, but the endorphins released during play are fuel for the body and mind.
  4. Most leaders want the NFL players of their industry, but refuse to identify the end zone. Set specific (the more inspiring, the better) goals, with dates associated with each.
  5. Be Human. To the extent possible, share your fears and your mistakes. It will make you relatable and trustworthy. Commitment is impossible without trust.
  6. No matter how difficult, or scary, the circumstance, simple acts of kindness have lasting power when it comes to commitment. Of course, authenticity is key here.
  7. Change is not comfortable, nor is stepping into our capabilities, yet both are critical when it comes to lasting commitment. Yes, they want you to make big requests of them, and they want your support in accomplishing the task at hand.

“Misti,” Cheryl told me, “I have people I never would have pegged as leaders stepping up and taking responsibility.”

In the course of just six weeks, Cheryl’s team shifted their focus away from spreading fear, onto the strongest levels of commitment she has ever experienced with this team.

The even better news is that these strategies are still working nearly a year later!

Complaints are an excellent indicator your VOICE needs strengthening. Use these strategies to get the most out of every complaint that makes its way into your team.