Constructive vs. Destructive Communication

Fact #1: Strong teams have healthy communication and interactions.
Fact #2: We all have frustrations and deserve a healthy way to vent.
These two realities do not always compliment each other, yet there are ways to make it work.

Solve work friction and disagreements with constructive action. When something needs to change, we have two ways we can respond; fix it or complain. Complaining is not constructive. The only possible good that comes from complaining is for the speaker or the listener. The speaker may find relief from frustrations simply by voicing them out loud. It feels good to be heard. The listener may feel validated in their own frustrations learning others feel the same way. It feels good to know you are not alone. However, complaining does not solve the issue. The person or situation which has caused the frustration is not affected in any way.

Think of complaining and gossip like road rage for the office. If a car cuts you off and you yell at the driver, they don’t hear you. Later, when you get to work and complain about them to your co-worker, that other driver still does not hear you. They have learned nothing about their actions from your response. As for you, the situation that caused you anger or frustration in the moment has been prolonged. The momentary action by one person has caused you hours of negative emotion.

Constructive responses are ones which allow the conflict or issue to reach a solution. Address frustrations in a way that points out the behavior without belittling the person or people responsible. Agreeing to a set of team norms or retraining on a procedure allows everyone to get on the same page without pinpointing who was off base. Asking for advise on how to approach an issue allows a team member to gain perspective. Yes, at times, the line between complaining and asking for advise can be narrow. The trick is to keep your focus on the path ahead that leads to a resolution, and away from the path you’ve already traveled that instigates gossip.

Constructive vs. Destructive Responses
Example Situation: Someone in the meeting is monopolizing the conversation.
– Anyone talking about the person behind their back, putting them down for their actions.
– Anyone saying anything along the lines of, “You sure do talk a lot,” or other comments which create more of an ineffective relationship.
– Anyone viewing the person’s ideas as less valid because they were voiced in a manner that caused annoyance.
– During the meeting, the person leading the meeting says, “Thank you so-in-so for sharing. Now let’s hear from your team mates.”
– During the meeting, team mates ask each other to reiterate points that have been overshadowed by the person.
– After the meeting, a supervisor or co-worker with a good report approaches the person and starts a conversation with, “I noticed in that last meeting that…”
– Before the next meeting, a supervisor or meeting leader asks everyone to agree to a set of meeting norms.
– A frustrated team member speaks with a supervisor, manager, or co-worker to ask for advise on how to personally handle the situation.
– Someone from outside the team come into to mediate interactions.
– The team collectively engages in coaching or team building facilitation.