Gripes Are Not Goals!

Gripes are common and gripers can be heard everywhere. However, effective leaders know that teamwork, high morale and a productive organization cultures are built on a positive outlook – not a lot of negativity – and creating these conditions is part of your job!

How does negativity show up? Whether it is about the boss’s latest communication or the organization’s new parking rules, people think that venting is therapeutic and clears the air. Usually these complaints are intense, glum and pessimistic about anything ever getting better. For example, “the boss has no idea what we are actually doing, and he’ll never learn because he is out of touch,” or “anyone could make a better parking plan than those idiots in Facility Maintenance; they never ask us about how things actually work.”

Maybe some people actually do feel better after getting something off their chest. But too often the griping session only deepens the sense of helplessness, outrage and pessimism. It reinforces the sense of us vs. them, and intensifies the gloom.

And it is contagious. Just try hanging around with people who belly-ache and you will notice several things. First, they often complain about many things; their primary mode of conversation is negative and the tone is usually self-righteous. They are right and everyone else is wrong. Second, they usually ignore root causes and just focus on symptoms; for example, “no one ever tells us what is going on,” rather than “what is there in our organization patterns that makes communication so often ineffective and what can we do to make this better?”

What’s needed is recognizing a problem, analyzing its substance and its causes and – here’s the really valuable part – setting goals for action. Gripes are not goals and they rarely move people to explore goals. Why?

Gripes are like junk food; they may taste good in the moment, but they provide little of value.  Goals, if properly conceived, can set a new direction and get people motivated to achieve them.

Setting new goals and creating meaningful change require the following gripe-defeating efforts:

  • Explore the problem or opportunity objectively
  • Identify the causes and patterns that keep the problem stuck
  • Think “outside the box” of the usual solutions; be curious and willing to consider new approaches
  • Engage the right leaders and other stakeholders
  • Experiment and monitor results
  • Focus on outcomes to confirm that change has been created

As a leader of teams and important initiatives, you need to recognize the signs of negativity and redirect the gripes into goal-directed efforts. Margaret Mead so wisely said: ”Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world.  Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


For more information on setting goals to solve problems, contact Vogel/Glaser & Associates, or call 410-730-9590. Judy and David have been providing customized executive coaching and organization change consulting services for a combined 60 years.