We’re all guilty of complaining at one time or another. It can feel good to vent our frustrations and seek comfort from others who can relate. And — let’s be honest — it can also feel like there are a lot of “good” reasons to complain.
Although it’s natural to want to express our dissatisfaction or annoyance about work, complaining focuses our attention on the negative; we literally begin to see and experience the world more negatively. Complaining also can cause stress, which can literally shrink part of our brains and our capacity to do great work.
It’s well-known that creating a positive workplace culture can help employees perform better and feel happier, more motivated and more engaged. As an executive coach specializing in creating high-performing teams, I’ve seen the habits that can make or break a team’s success.
If you’re looking to increase your team’s effectiveness, here are my top seven tips to cut workplace complaining.
1. Say No To Complaining
Here’s a truth most leaders don’t want to face: If you’re not saying no to complaining, you’re saying yes. Leaders unintentionally tell employees that it’s okay to complain if they say nothing when the complaining is happening. It’s a leader’s job to have the difficult conversation and shut down complaining in an appropriate way. The person complaining should not feel personally criticized, or they will likely react with anger and defensiveness. Instead, express how you are feeling. For example, “I feel uncomfortable when I hear Jane being spoken about when she’s not in the room.”
2. Stop (Accidentally) Asking For Perfectionism
Most leaders mean well in their attempts to get their team members to perform at their best. However, when leaders criticize employees and constantly point out errors and shortcomings, employees may feel embarrassed, angry and defensive. Instead, encourage your team members to understand that mistakes can happen and that the goal is to continuously learn and improve, not to be perfect. Otherwise, they may be heading to the coffee corner right now to talk about all of your flaws and the mistakes you’ve made.
3. Keep Competition Friendly
While friendly competition is helpful for engaging employees, toxic competition is deadly for team culture. Many companies are structured to give promotions and bonuses to people who achieve individual success (even when the company may say they reward teamwork). This can create unfortunate circumstances where employees are pitted against one another and try to make others look bad in hopes of making themselves look better. Instead, use competitiveness to your advantage by redefining a new common enemy they can work against together, such as an external competitor or a seemingly impossible innovation project.
4. Ask Employees How You Can Support Them
It’s easy to complain about a problem that employees believe is someone else’s responsibility to fix. Empower your team members to feel a sense of ownership of the situation so they can pursue ways of changing the problem while still feeling supported by you. Ask them coaching-style questions regarding what changes they would like to see, how that change could be implemented and, most importantly, how you can support them. Giving the power back to employees to improve a situation (or at least giving them space to realize on their own why it’s so difficult for you to change a situation) can remove the complaint factor and significantly increase their engagement.
5. Clarify Priorities (Not Everything Is A Priority)
Many workplace complaints I hear from employees revolve around feeling uncertain, overwhelmed or unclear or simply believing they cannot meet “unrealistic” management expectations. A remarkable amount of procrastination and complaining comes from uncertainty about what to work on next and how to complete the task. By providing clarity, removing lower-priority projects altogether and helping to map out small, achievable next steps, you can remove a lot of the confusion causing the complaining.
6. Always Focus On The Opportunity
As a leader, your reactions are closely watched and ultimately copied by your team members. If you’re complaining about the senior management’s decision-making process, then your team members are likely to follow your lead. The next time you face a complaint-worthy challenge, tell your team how you’re going to take advantage of the new opportunity you’re being given. Reframe the challenge by sharing the benefits to you and the team. (No extra budget? It’s the perfect time to get creative.) You will stand out as a leader if you can take a complaining moment and transform it into an inspirational moment.
7. Show Genuine Appreciation
In my experience, both giving and receiving appreciation shift the way we view the world and help us focus on the positive, thereby inspiring fewer complaints. Showing genuine appreciation can be difficult for many leaders who are used to using generic praise like “great job” or “thank you.” To make your appreciation genuine, focus on the person and their efforts instead of just their outcomes. For example, if a team member stayed calm while a client was furious, praise their composure, thoughtfulness and commitment to the client relationship.
Complaining is a normal part of being human. It’s normal to want to vent your frustrations and connect with others over a common enemy. However, allowing a culture of complaining to be persistent in the office can keep your team from performing at their best. You can keep your team motivated, engaged and performing by replacing the culture of complaining with one of empowerment and positivity.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com