Conditioning Others for Success: Dealing with the Institutional Whiner!

Like a cancer slowly killing off a living organism, American industry, business and society have cultivated the worker base to such a level of comfort and guardianship that one day, we awoke to find employees with an attitude of endless expectations to be met in exchange for the labor they delivered to the workplace each day.

With these over-pampered expectations has also come the occasional worker that arrives with such a whining persona that it erodes workplace energies, robs teams of quality performance output and leads to such levels of unhappiness that workers morph into amoebas, going through minimal motions for maximum pay.

To recondition this cancerous individual will require the individual – whether a peer, subordinate/employee or supervisor – to adjust their approach and commit to three new behaviors:

  1. Patience – In a world where everyone wants instant results and instant gratification, one must adjust his or her mindset to realize the conversion from whiner to winner may take repeated efforts. Therefore, avoiding frustration over impatience and maintaining a calm, non-combative demeanor will be necessary!
  1.  Consistency – A difficult habit for most is to repeatedly engage a person in a situation where a conversion in their attitude or behavior is sought with firm measure. Whiners will expect you to be inconsistent in your endeavors, and that will be the kink-in-your-armor they look for to derail your performance- engagement endeavors!
  1. Commitment – Most critical to your engagement approach to recondition a whiner and evolve them into a winner will require that you are committed to the engagement until either they change, leave, die or you leave. This is the most absolute step where individuals within organizations tend to fail, and whiners have learned that if they just whine long enough, they will get their way.

Whiners are the cancer to an organization’s wellbeing today. They learned their behaviors early on, learned they can get away with acts of responsibility early on and spent a life perfecting them. They are five-year-old brats in need of some serious tough-love discipline that merely massacred as adults and who are protected by systems of mediocrity – outdated unions, government mandates gone array and bad management!

To condition individuals to join the contributing universe of your organization in a non- combative or non-threatening manner, consider these performance-engagement strategies:

  1. Demand Alternatives – Each time the whiner would traditionally counter a new idea, initiative, proposal or suggestion with a resistant whining comment, don’t argue, fight, raise your voice, roll your eyes or any other behavioral act of challenge. Instead, calmly and respectfully engage them and, without defending or re-justifying what they challenged, inquire from them an alternative that allows for forward productivity momentum. If they cannot provide a response, but merely whine or comment negatively again, repeat yourself and seek a viable alternative. By this act, you will recondition them over time to consciously realize that, in your presence at least, they will be expected to “put up or shut up!”
  1. Assign 100 Percent Responsibility – That which the whiner repeatedly attacks, place them 100 percent in charge of (not jointly with someone else as all they will do is terrorize that one individual). Put them 100 percent in charge of something – anything – that they whine about, and you will all win. They either will produce now, seeing their name solely on the accountability line, or they will quit. Either way, the organization wins!
  1. Documentation Trail Building– What most whiners outlive is anyone’s ability to fully document their whining behavior and/or substandard performance. Start a serious and aggressive documentation trail (in a non-combative, non-threatening manner) of simple e-mails, letters (ideally, with some sort of receipt mechanism for legality purposes – a fax, signature required UPS or FedEx, etc.), group interactions and delegation opportunities. If you are a supervisor or engage in 360-feedback programs, regularly use performance reviews (weekly if necessary!). To these instruments, add any and all categories, behaviors and acts that need measuring and addressing with a solution-oriented approach. As appropriate (early on and often), make sure copies of all documentation are forwarded to all stakeholders, who could have a parallel influence on conditioning and converting the whiner into a winner. Keep backup copies of all documentation off site to protect yourself should the whiner go covert and place you into what would otherwise be a losing position without your documentation!
  1. Limit Your Exposure to Whiners – For your own mental health, recognize the volume of past interactions that were really not necessary and let that serve as a benchmark for future interactions. Whiners need an audience, and if you’re not available, they will either go elsewhere or change their behavior to what they recognize gets attention. Play to winners and you will cultivate (condition) more winners; conversely, play to whiners, and even winners get frustrated and complacent!
  1. Invite Winners – Recognize that even whiners started out as winners – they have merely been conditioned to evolve into the person they are today. Create an environment and demeanor that invites them to reengage the team. Let them know that deep down within them, there are traits of a winner that you desire and invite them into the organization.

Invite them and everyone else to evaluate the workplace from a survival standpoint. For everyone to maintain employment in the future, the cancer must be aggressively eradicated. Recall necessary measures that it is in everyone’s overall best interest to do – minus the world of politics that typically avail and feed the whiners. In the past decade, the number one on-site behavioral training classes presented to the major associations and the Fortune 500 have been classes on dealing with conflicts and confrontations in the workplace. This has been a true loss of professional growth, happiness and profitability that has been robbed from the winners by the whiners.

-Dr Jeff Magee
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