After nearly a decade of working in editorial departments, internal marketing agencies, and ad agencies, after being on staff, a contractor, a freelancer, and now small business owner, I’ve received a lot of (mostly good) advice.
But to this day, there’s one piece of advice a mentor and one-time manager gave me that sticks out above anything else.
“What I appreciate about you,” she said, “is you always come with a solution to make things better. Keep doing this.”
What she was saying–probably in different words that I’ve just inflated to make myself sound extra awesome–was she appreciated that I didn’t vent in our weekly one-on-one meetings about our team’s problems. I didn’t complain. I didn’t dump my issues on her.
Instead, I identified unnecessary hurdles and brought solutions to remove them.
The key to this isn’t that I identified the right solution.
Rather, by offering a possibility, I opened the door for a productive conversation. It was a starting point. Sometimes, we tried my solution and it worked. Other times we tried it and had to come up with Plan B. Still other times my manger came up with an alternative solution or we came up with a plan to tackle the challenge together.
What I didn’t know at the time–but understand from since working with a variety of personalities–is not everyone brings solutions to the table. And, pretty quickly, you don’t want to work with people who only want to complain or who expect you to come up with the solution for their problem.
To turn a complaint into constructive criticism, you need to present at least one possible way to overcome your issue.
So, next time you want to bring a complaint to a peer or a mentor (or your girlfriend, friend, husband, wife, mom, grandfather …), spend a few moments thinking of what steps you can take to make things better.