When Pope Francis tells you to stop whining, you know there is power in the message. Since becoming the new pope, Francis has been a model of humility, empathy, and compassion. It’s obvious he cares deeply for people, especially the poor and oppressed. But a few weeks back, he did something that made headlines. He installed a sign on the door of his private apartment at the Vatican that essentially says, “No Whining.”
This powerful statement from one of the world’s most influential leaders made me think about the concept of “victimhood.” As leaders, we know the importance of listening and empathy. We know that caring for people and their needs creates a better work environment. But, what if we allow it to go too far? What if, out of compassion, we allow whining and complaining to get out of control?
The answer comes from the fine print in the Pope’s new sign. According to Reuters, the sign warns that continued whining leads to a mentality of “always feeling like a victim and the consequent reduction of your sense of humor and capacity to solve problems.” It then reminds the reader that “to get the best out of yourself, concentrate on your potential and not on your limitations…stop complaining and take steps to improve your life.”
“Be grateful for what you have and stop complaining – it bores everybody else, does you no good, and doesn’t solve any problems.” Zig Ziglar
Leaders need to be good listeners but, as Pope Francis reminds us, we need to watch out for excessive complaining. We need to avoid situations where people become victims, losing their capacity to solve problems. A “no whining” policy will help our organizations in three distinct ways.
Whining drains energy. Valid concerns from employees who care and want to make things better are good. But constant complaining from those who seem to be perpetually unhappy drains the energy of the team. Whiners want to be heard but they don’t necessarily want things fixed. Their negative attitude affects everyone around them and hurts the team’s morale. Leaders need to recognize this and intervene.
“Complaining not only ruins everybody else’s day, it ruins the complainer’s day, too. The more we complain, the more unhappy we get.” Dennis Prager
Whining reinforces a victim mentality. A victim mentality is formed when someone sees themselves as a sufferer of the negative action of others. Victims feel powerless to affect their circumstances. As leaders, if we accept the constant whining and complaining of employees, we help reinforce their condition. They will lose the capacity to solve their own problems. Instead, we should challenge these employees and ask them what they are going to do to get out of their situation.
Whining is selfish. Whiners are focused on themselves and their negative circumstances. Their “woe is me” attitude leaves little room for them to care about others and the job at hand. In an organization, this is detrimental to good teamwork. It’s the role of the leader to observe this behavior and confront it. Focus the whiner on tasks that will help others or the goals of the organization.
Leadership is a people business. We know that caring for people and their needs creates a better work environment. But, as Pope Francis points out, we can’t let whining and complaining get out of control. Perpetual complainers, if not confronted, will drain the energy of a team. We also run the risk of prolonging their victim mentality. In the end, whining and complaining are selfish acts that run counter to good teamwork and goal achievement. A “no whining” policy is essential to a well-run organization.
What do you think? What’s it like to work around people who are constantly complaining? What happens if that behavior is not confronted? Have you confronted whiners? How did that affect them and the organization? Let me know in the comment section below.
See more of my articles on business and leadership at jonsrennie.com.