You’ve heard it before standing around the water cooler: co-workers relaying a laundry list of complaints to one another about how the office functions. Maybe the meetings are too long, they’re asked to work overtime too often, or the boss is aloof/uninvolved/too involved/self-important/(insert unpleasant personality descriptor here.) Maybe…maybe just once in a while, you get sucked in after the bad day you had and join in the ranting and raving over a round of cocktails after work. You’re human, you say. Sometimes it happens to the best of us.
You’re right. You’re human. Now ask yourself: what did that rant solve?
I understand because I’ve been there. I still go to that bad place from time to time. But the question I just laid before you is something that I have to keep asking myself – and if my rant didn’t solve anything at all, I have to figure out how to be productive about my concerns after all.
Every office has things that can be improved because every office is run by humans just like you. But there is one surefire way to make sure that nothing in your office changes or improves: don’t ever speak up to the people who can change or improve things. No problems were ever solved by no action being taken.
There’s a way to address the concerns you may have in an office while still being diplomatic and keeping your job at the end of the day. Consider these tips when deciding to speak up:
- Is the problem ongoing or was it a one-time thing? It’s important to evaluate whether there is even a good reason to go to bat over a situation. Once in my own work history, there were certain scheduling and attendance details that were not shared with me about a seminar that I needed to lead. When I arrived, I found out the details and hours of material needed to be rearranged, subtracted from, added to, all within minutes – I was frustrated with the leadership for not letting me know about the changes sooner. I later found out that this particular seminar would not be held again and would not be a future issue – why bring something up when it could not be repeated? I simmered down and let it go. However, if your situation involves something that you see being a regular pattern, it may need addressing.
- What is the personality type of the person you need to speak to? Understanding someone’s background, objectives and overall personality quirks is integral to diplomacy. Does this person want you to ask them for advice on the problem instead of telling them how to solve it? Perhaps they are a straight shooter and would like for you to spit it out. Evaluate the best way to approach them with finesse. Remember a great rule for diplomacy: Give people what they want in order to get what you want. In other words, if your boss is the kind of person that warms up after a compliment, compliment away. Giving things out that will not harm your cause or go against your moral code can help you go a long way.
- Do you have a solution? If the answer to that question is ‘no,’ find one. Make sure to evaluate your solution’s practicality, efficiency, cost (if any), reception and effectiveness. Each boss has to consider the bottom line at the end of the day. Knowing their bottom line can help you be armed with a solution that can sail through easily.
- Always be respectful. Remember that people can sometimes feel threatened when other people speak up–mostly because so few people do! Make sure that they don’t feel personally injured by the way that you handle things.
- At the end of the day, this person is still your boss. I had the great fortune of being cultivated for nearly 6 years in an environment where my company’s owner encouraged me to engage with him and disagree if I felt strongly about something. Our banter was often fun and sarcastic and we would go around and around on certain issues. Regardless, he was still my boss and had to look out for the best interests of the company, which meant that I didn’t always get my way. Whether or not we disagreed, I needed to accept his verdict gracefully…sometimes, it just helped me build up my next arsenal of solutions!
Rocking the boat isn’t always a bad thing. As a matter of fact, doing it with grace and aplomb can often make you stand out: as a problem solver, a leader, a forward thinker and someone to target for upward movement in your company. You may surprise yourself and everyone around you when that change happens and is good for everyone all around. You may even change the behaviors of some of those complainers, er, humans you work with.