Professional People-Skills to Find Solutions, Not Fault

“Finding fault stops progress; finding solutions ignites success.” I recently wrote and posted that thought on Twitter. Many re-tweeted it and sent various replies. This particular reply caught my eye:

What  do  you  do  when  those  around  you  want  to  find fault  instead  of  finding  solutions?

A great question. Dealing with chronic naysayers can demoralize a team. Dan Rockwell, The LeadershipFreak, notes “Negative people always work to solidify the status quo.” He offers an except from Dr. Robert Sutton’s new book Good Boss, Bad Boss: “Teams with downers produce 40 to 60% less than teams without whiners and complainers.” That rang true to me. When I am around chronic naysayers, I feel like I am pushing a truck up a hill without a motor.

Conversely, when I am around people who focus on finding solutions, they ignite other innovative thoughts that can lead to success. When you watch teams of inventors, they actually highlight failures as steps toward success. They don’t wallow in finding fault with the ideas. They highlight the faulty ideas as a pathway for success!

Finding Solutions Ignites Success Image by:ANDI

So what professional people skills would you use with a peer who always finds fault and complains rather than offers solutions to problems?

Awareness, Attitude, & Personality Type

  1. Are they aware that they come across as negative vs. positive? You might think this is a ridiculous question yet many people never think about how they come across. One safe yet effective way of showing this to a peer is to ask them a “how to” question when they are simply complaining. If they reply “I don’t know how to fix it but this won’t work”, let them know that you would value their ideas and solutions. Continue on to say that you “respect their right to focus on what won’t work yet you find that it demoralizes you. Perhaps they could share those thoughts with someone else.” If someone is going to change their attitude, they must first be aware of how their attitude is impacting others and the bottom line.
  2. If the complaining continues, say “I may be wrong about this yet I perceive your remarks as an attempt to slow the change. Is that correct?” I did this one day and the complainer said “yes”! Once his attitude was out on the table, the leader addressed the change resistance with the complainer in private.
  3. What personality type are they?  Driver types are so focused on the end result they assume that others are too. They often skip telling you the positive aspects of your idea and jump to the faults with the intention of reaching success more quickly. If you are not a driver personality type, you may likely see this as negativity or a personal slight to your value. Drivers are not the classic naysayer type. Nonetheless, their abrupt approach can demoralize and slow a team’s progress just like a chronic naysayer. Tell the driver type that you also are focusing on the end result. Yet you need to hear the positives as well as the faults to innovate and reach success.

Achieving success requires a great attitude, communication, awareness, and action.

Attitudes of fear and selfishness breed pure fault finding that can derail success. Awareness of those attitudes is the first step to return you all to the success track. Communicating only the negatives when you see the positives robs some teammates of the inspiration to continue innovating. If you are a driver type, don’t mistake the need to hear the positives as a lack of action. It spurs many non-drivers on to the finish line!

What else would you say or do with a peer who is always finding fault instead of solutions? I welcome your ideas in the comment section below.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach, develops teamwork through workshops that bridge the gaps in communication. Participants in global corporations have remarked, “It was a revelation that transformed our results once we understood each other.” Tap Kate’s people-skills experience in webinars, workshops, blog posts. and DVDs.

14 Responses to “Professional People-Skills to Find Solutions, Not Fault”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Roy Atkinson. Roy Atkinson said: Finding Fault, or Finding Solutions? by @KateNasser […]

  2. I LOVE this post, Kate! As a “glass-half full” change-agent, I encounter this issue quite often. I have found that many who find fault with a plan simply distrust the motives of those doing the proposing.

    To transform fault-finders into a solution-oriented partners, I must prove that I truly do have THEIR best interests in mind. When I take great care to detail how a plan benefits the listeners, resistance is gradually replaced by resolve.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Nice to see your comment on this post Tristan. You do come across — even in your social media presence — as a creative positive change agent. We share that trait.
      I do agree with you about showing benefits to spur change. I have encountered some who will resist even that. I call them “true resistors” and mostly they are acting behind the scenes to stop the change. Perhaps I see more of this than others do because a consultant is often called when things get sticky and slow.

      In any case, when positive can-do attitudes replace pervasive negativity — life changes!


  3. Kate,

    Your posts get better and better. Thanks for sharing.

    I’m a negative person by nature. When I say that, I feel like I’m at AA or some other meeting where people say, “hello, I’m Bob and I’m an alcoholic.”

    I never knew how negative I sounded until I started listening to myself. I ask myself, where do my words take others? Sadly, if I’m not careful, they take them nowhere.

    Learning to speak otherwise (against my inclination) and holding my tongue helps. Being online where “over” politeness is important helps.

    Additionally, not all that seems negative is negative. Perhaps it would help your readers to understand what I call “false negativity.” I wrote about it at:

    Thanks for all you do,

    Leadership Freak
    Dan Rockwell

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Startling honesty from you that brings deeper focus to the issue of self-awareness. When you understand, as you say, “where your words take others”, you have leaped forward both as a team member and as a leader.

      Teamwork is not just a group of people working toward a common goal. It is the adaptation to each other’s needs to produce the best results that charaterizes great teamwork.

      Your post on “false negativity” has a very provocative statement in it: “Skilled leaders don’t have as many negative people on their team.” I hope others will read that post (see above URL) and relish both the content and your compact writing style.

      FYI: I happen to agree with your view on that!

  4. Jane Perdue says:

    Kate – another thought-provoking topic!
    One of my life lessons has been that no one can change another. As leaders we can help the chronic nay-sayers understand the (negative) workplace and personal career impacts of their passion for perpetual faulting finding (particularly when there’s no value add from what they do). They won’t change unless, or until, they reach some personal pain point that motivates them to modify their behavior.
    On the flip side, as leaders, we must be aware of our own behaviors — are we categorizing someone as being a fault-finder simply because they chronicly disagree with our position?


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Jane,
      Excellent insight. I certainly was not referring to someone who is offering genuine concerns and differing ideas. Diverse opinions DO help work toward solutions.
      Conversely, chronic fault finders “find the fault” yet do not offer alternatives. They also hold to their vision with a rigid selfishness that can hurt the larger organization and purpose. They believe that they do not need to support any decision for the whole team that they individually do not like. They continue to complain about it as change moves forward. They rarely step outside of their own perspective and see the world from other angles.

      Sometimes change has to happen more quickly …

  5. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL! Totally scored, AGAIN, with this post! I am fortunate that I don’t have to deal with this in the workplace… as I am ‘the decider’, however, I DO have these challenges from ‘naysayers’ and pessimists on a personal basis.

    Your brilliant counsel has ALREADY come in handy! Kudos on all the marvelous things you bring to light!

    As I think about it, one of my Team Leaders is perpetually, clinically negative. An “I can do this better than ANYONE and I’m baffled that you don’t AGREEEE with MY approach… but oh well, it’s your funeral.”-type.

    My inclination as a leader is to thank them for their passion and concern & then gently redirect them by reminding them that “there are many methods of achieving a result.” On occasion that doesn’t work and I am forced to whip out the old “because I said so. Thanks.” or “because that is what I am asking of you.”

    Thanks for the ammo with which to achieve a positive resullt and, gently but firmly, a change in their M.O.

    Thanks and best regards my Guru,

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Many many thanks for this contribution on wonderful TGIF! I am glad that my posts have provided insight and help. I learn from the comments and am thrilled that you contributed. I invite you to comment on any post of interest on this Smart SenseAbilities blog and wish you a fantastic weekend.

  6. Simona says:

    Hello Kate,

    Indeed a very good subject :). The question sounds very familiar.

    -well , COMMUNICATION is the KEY for this issue
    – first we must escape of the fears of hearing faults, and focus on the solutions
    -some of us are more negative people, but with their negative approach to situations , they show their worries.
    -we (because I am positive by nature) must understand them!
    – the people with positive approach can help the negative, and a MIX between two sides (negative -critic and positive-idealistic) is better-ONLY IF and ONLY WHEN EXISTS FLEXIBILITY in thinking and in attitude for both parts.

    This is what I believe and also experienced.

    all the Best dear Kate!

  7. […] Professional People Skills to Find Solutions, Not Fault | Kate Nasser What  do  you  do  when  those  around  you  want  to  find fault  instead  of  finding  solutions? (tags: skills professional people) […]

  8. Two key points emerged for me, based on your suggestions, the comments here and my own experience:
    1. Encourage Solutions: Regardless of the source of the negative comments, nay-sayers (or “whiners” as I call them), need to recognize we all have a responsibility, as part of our job, to find solutions, not just problems.
    2. Set the Example: Be the leader (regardless of title) in the group and set the example, clearly. When you present a challenge, follow it by calling out, “and, so as not to only present the negative side, here is how I propose we solve it….”

    For me, I’ve even asked my team to call me out whenever I am being too negative. It is important to maintain a positive environment. I wrote on a very similar topic, for those that are interested in more examples, at “Whiner or Winner“.

    An excellent post, Kate. Thank you for sharing.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      I very much like the action spin you emphasize on this post — “Encourage” solutions. Leaders can do a great deal to influence behavior if they see their role as “influencer”. I love the fact that you actually give your team permission to “check” you on negativity. Bravo and thanks for contributing to this post.

      Here’s to a positive action-oriented day!

  9. Susan Mazza says:

    Great points Kate. I also find that people who are “wired” to be negative or naturally see the flaws in things can dismiss attempts to deal with the way they occur believing that those in “power” prefer not to deal with reality or they just don’t want to “hear the truth”.

    Skepticism and criticism are often essential to coming up with great solutions. There is a big difference between being negative/having a negative attitude and having something negative to say.

    When someone can get the difference their ability to find the flaws and their comfort with expressing a dissenting opinion can be an asset. When they don’t they are destined to be eternally frustrated by not being listened to or heard even when what they have to say is both useful and valid.

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