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Zero Dead Ends - Why Complaining Can Hold You Back

Published 4/23/2018

If you've ever known a small child, then you've probably noticed that when they get hurt, they react by running to an adult for consolation. We'd like to think that we grow out of this as adults, but we need to be taught to manage a situation. Today, we're talking about the concept of being a tattletale and knowing when it's helpful and when it's hurtful.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
If you've ever watched small children, and by small, I mean under the age of, say, six or seven years old, then you've probably watched a behavior that is highly relevant to today's episode. The behavior is really simple. One child either does something unfair to another child, or at least the other child feels that something they did was unfair, or a child simply falls down or somehow hurts themselves. And not seriously hurts themselves, but more kind of morally hurts themselves. To a degree that maybe they feel a little bit scared or otherwise, they feel like they need to respond to whatever that event was. And so they run to an adult. And they run to the adult with a complaint. The complaint is usually very simple. My friend did something that hurt me. And they expect that this moment is going to alleviate whatever it was that happened, that the parent is going to act as the judge, or is somehow going to provide consolation, either by punishing the other child or by comforting the one who fell down and skinned their knee. Now, of course, we expect this behavior to change as the child grows. And very often we may label this behavior a negative thing, especially when we believe they should know better, for example, a tattletail. Now we'd like to think that we don't apply the same behaviors as adults. But there is something to be learned from children, and there's something to be learned from our distaste for this kind of behavior. Of course, we can easily forgive a child for this. They don't know any better. And they have to be taught how to deal with their own problems. But what is it exactly that drives a child to this kind of behavior in the first place, and more importantly for today's episode, what does it have to do with us as developers? That's what we're talking about. And today's episode of Developer Tea, my name is Jonathan Cutrell, and my goal on the show is to help driven developers connect to their career purpose and help them do better work, so they can have a positive influence on the people around them. So we're talking about this concept, this very simple concept of the tattletail. Now, I guess I need to make a disclaimer here. Of course, this is not a indictment on children or the behavior of children. I'm certainly not a childhood psychologist. I don't have a full understanding of this subject. I am a new parent, so I am a beginner as it relates to how the brain of a child works. But at a most basic level, when a child comes to an adult with a complaint, we can assume that they're not getting something that they want. We can assume that they wish that something was different, that they wish that even if they simply want attention, they're coming to the adult to get that thing. They know that adults have the power and the authority to make changes, to give them something perhaps that they do want. And in fact, when the child is this young, this kind of dependence is a good thing. It shows that the child trusts their parent and they need that opportunity to see their parent working on their behalf. But we're no longer children as developers. We've grown up and we're in our jobs now. We go to work and we have the opportunity and the authority. And more importantly, we have the responsibility to handle problems. Our work really is solving problems. But the reality is very often we do act like the Taddle-tailed child. Now, it's not necessarily when another coworker of ours is doing something unfair to us, although that certainly is a time where this behavior can occur. But more often, this happens when we have some kind of complaint about our work. Whether we have a complaint about a constraint that we're facing or maybe we have a frustration with a client or a coworker that is causing our work to suffer. And very often, we have these kinds of frustrations, these kinds of moments. And we often deal with them in one of two unhealthy ways. The first way is to simply complain about them. Complaining about them more directly to our coworkers or people we don't work with at all. Now, there is something healthy about complaining. Sometimes complaining is actually processing why you feel a certain way. This can be a very important part of your kind of personal journey at work. The other way, the other unhealthy way is by complaining, but this time, complaining upward to our boss. Now, before you turn off this podcast, make sure you hear the second part of this, because it's totally okay to complain to your boss. But the behavior becomes unhealthy when it stops at a complaint. It also becomes unhealthy when the complaints are constant. Now, how can we fix this? How can we not carry forward this somewhat immature behavior? And why does it matter in the first place? To understand this, you have to put yourself in your boss's position. Imagine that you have your own set of problems. You have your own long list of things to do. But on top of that, now you have people who are coming to you with complaints. In person A and in person B and in person C, they all have different complaints. In fact, you may have a person A that is complaining that something is too far one direction. In person B, that is complaining that it's not far enough that direction. So very quickly, the boss's job or the manager's job becomes really overwhelmed by all of these inputs, all of these incoming messages from employees. Now the boss doesn't really have the option of turning this off. This isn't something that the boss can ignore because as it turns out, part of the boss's job, and arguably the most important part of a boss's job is to help those people solve their problems. So they can be more productive. So they can be more energized by what they're doing. So they can solve problems together. They can collaborate better together. They can create value together. So they can get back to a central kind of value system and continuously move whatever effort it is that they're trying to move forward. So the boss is intentionally trying to catalyze this between the members of the team, but unfortunately, the boss becomes inundated with a bunch of these incoming requests, incoming complaints. And now for the majority of their day, they're trying to figure out how to make someone feel a little bit better. This is incredibly unproductive. So what would you want in this position as a boss? What would you hope that the next message would be? Well certainly a positive message goes a long way to lifting the spirits of that particular person in that particular scenario, of course that positivity if it's fake or if it's forced, then that will only last so long. What you really want to be able to do is solve those problems. You want to have a way of solving those problems so you can actually move these people forward. The boss wants to do their job and so do the people working for the boss. Now let's return to the example of the children who are complaining to their parents. As adults, as parents, as teachers, as mentors, you would teach a child to work through their own problems, to mediate between themselves, to apologize, to use their words, right? And to try to resolve conflict together. And this is exactly as it turns out what we need to learn as adults. So I'm going to give you a very simple heuristic and this could totally revolutionize your career. If you really take it to heart, and that is anytime you have a complaint before you share that complaint with either a coworker or with your boss, identify at least one more preferably three options of how to fix it. Let's unpack what we just said here. So basically what we're saying is don't share a complaint with your boss especially and also don't share that complaint with your coworkers until you have at least one in more preferably three ways that you believe that problem could be fixed. What does this do? What does coming with those options do? Well, first of all, it changes the outcome and the intention of the conversation. Instead of focusing on the complaint, you're focused on action. Now the person who is collaborating with you no longer is tasked with trying to make you feel better. Right? They're not tasked with trying to console you or otherwise make you feel like they're going to come in and save the day. Instead, you're asking for their contribution in collaborating on the solution to the problem. So it shows that you are motivated and you no longer have this roadblock in your way. This roadblock of complaining instead your solution mind it. I'm going to give you a name for this. I'm going to call it zero dead ends, zero dead ends. And this is something you can carry with you. Anytime you find yourself in a position where you feel like maybe you're complaining a little bit much or somebody tells you that you're complaining a lot. If you find yourself kind of feeling somewhat limited in your career or limited in how much you can affect, try to see how many times you have conversations that end in a dead end. Ends very often look like complaints. They look like somebody saying, I'm sorry that you feel that way. And then walking away dead ends can have a incredibly negative detrimental effect on your career because people no longer see you as adding value. They see you as another difficult part of their day. Anytime they encounter you, anytime they are working with you, you're kind of a downer. Right? This is kind of a negative thing to deal with. So everybody can adopt this rule zero dead ends. At the very least have some positive direction. Some way that you believe is better. A forward thinking action oriented way of approaching any problem. Now the second part of this is preferably three ways. And why is this? Why not preferably two or why isn't one enough? The reality is you will eventually only go one direction. You may try to things in parallel, but you're not actually giving either one your full attention and full kind of commitment. So that is in and of itself an option. So why not one? Well, very often if we have a complaint and we only have one solution, it's very unlikely that we're going to get everyone on board with that one solution. So it's much harder to convince somebody of following a single plan when they have no choice but to follow that one plan. So from the outside in the single option looks very much like a narrow minded outcome. It looks like the problem is kind of a soap box in order to pursue this one direction. This is not what we want. We want to collaborate and we want to find the best solution to move forward. Now why is two not a good option either? Very often if your choice is coming down to two options, then one option often emerges as the clear winner. This is kind of a decoy issue, right? So you only have one true option that you are considering. And the other option is acting like a decoy, like it's very obviously not a good option. Now it's possible to have two okay or sufficient options, but very often this doesn't happen. Two options also very often create a false dichotomy. The idea that something in option A is just so bad that anything other than option A is better. So therefore we go with option B. This is an unfortunate response to that scenario and it's much better if you have a third option to contrast all of the various characteristics of the three options. The third option, the third thing that you add into the mix, this changes the way that you perceive options entirely. That's very important. We're not going to dive deep into the subject on today's episode because I really want to come back to the central idea that whenever you complain, whenever you have a moment where you're sharing a grievance, a frustration, I want to encourage you to commit to this zero dead end philosophy. No more dead ends. If you can always come to the table with at least one and preferably three options to move forward, you're going to see a positive effect on your career. This is going to earn you the title of action oriented, of solution minded. Those are the kind of people that every boss wants to hire. Those are the kinds of people that make massive differences in companies. Those are the kind of people that have truly found their career purpose and they move past complaint towards action. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. We've published well over 500 episodes of this show at this point. Thousands and thousands of minutes of this show have come out. Now I'd like to ask you for two minutes of your time. If you want to help this show out so we can continue doing what we do on Developer Tea, the best way to help doesn't require any money. It just requires these two minutes of your time. Go and subscribe, review, and rate this show in iTunes. This is the best way to help other developers find this show and ultimately help us continue doing what we do with Developer Tea. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode and until next time, enjoy your tea.