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How to Stop a Complainer

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This is a great leadership question. The answer? Put the Soldier in charge. Make them responsible for the solution. One of two things could happen:

They might actually do a good job, solving the problem. In this scenario, everyone wins. Now you just need to have discussion with the Soldier about how their constant complaining is bad for morale, creates friction, and will no longer be tolerated. If they have suggestions that contribute to the unit in a meaningful way, listen to them. If they have nothing positive to contribute towards solving the issue then they needs to remain silent or be able to voice their concerns in a positive and professional manner.

If they don’t solve the problem odds are they execute their solution in a substandard manner. In this case, you will want to conduct a professional after action review. Suggest that they should offer solutions before offering complaints in the future. The Soldier should also understand that being responsible means being held accountable. Being a critic is always easy. Perhaps they should begin to contribute rather than criticize. If you can deliver this message in a positive professional manner you will probably hit a nerve.

Think of it this way…because the Soldier complained, was placed in charge (to solve the problem), and did not do well…they lost credibility. Therefore, they will need to find a way to reestablish themselves with the team. You can use this to your advantage and motivate the Soldier to become a productive team member. By placing the complainer in charge they become responsible for finding a solution and being held accountable for implementing their solution to achieve the desired result. Never use this to humiliate but instead use it to build and grow the Soldier.

In some cases you might realize the Soldier had a point and you might learn something from them. We all can learn from one another. No one person has the answer all the time. As a leader it is a good idea to establish a culture in which your team can bring their concerns, suggestions, and recommendations to you. It’s not a complaint if it is constructive and geared towards finding a solution

Remember: When in charge, take charge. When not in charge let those in charge be in charge!

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Mark is a Retired Command Sergeant Major with 26 years of military leadership experience. He held 3 military occupational specialties (Field Artillery, Nuclear Weapons Tech, and Ammunition Ordnance). Mark is one of the leading military authors in the fields of leadership, counseling, and training.

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