Do you have an employee who likes to drain you of your time and energy by complaining about the same people and issues over and over again? No matter how compassionate and supportive you are with helpful suggestions, you can’t get them to do anything to change their situation, so their problem persists.
If this reminds you of someone you have a Time Vampire on your hands! Your little vampire actually enjoys talking to you about their problems and isn’t focused on fixing them. When they vent to you it relieves their stress around the situation so they leave your office feeling re-energized. Meanwhile, you still have to finish that pile of your work on your desk before going home. Add to this a half a dozen or so of these types of conversations every day and you can quickly find yourself in the weeds. Many HR Managers in particular have shared with me that because of their position they feel helpless to do anything this because they don’t ever want to turn someone away.
Consciously or not, people will take advantage of your willingness to listen. Whether you are an HR professional or in a line management position, it’s up to you to take control of the situation. You need to strike a balance between being a safe and supportive place for people to vent about their issues and effectively managing your time. You are actually doing your people a disservice if you don’t hold them accountable to trying to fix their problems themselves.
Early in my HR career I learned a valuable skill that allowed me to maintain my support for the individual, while encouraging problem-solving and honoring my time and energy. I made it my goal in almost every conversation to not let the employee leave until I moved them to action! Here’s how it works.
An employee comes to you to tell you about a problem they are having, a frustration, or just to vent. You give them your full attention using your best active listening skills (Acknowledge, Summarize, Empathize and Probe). If this is the first time you are hearing about this issue from this person, you may give them more time to share the problem with you completely. But if it’s not, if you’ve had this conversation before, you should shorten the time you allow them to talk. Since you understand the issue at hand, you don’t need the whole story again and you can move them to action.
Now the focus shifts from listening to problem-solving. You want to help them to resolve their problem and gain their commitment in the process so wrap up the conversation in one of four ways.
- Ask them to commit to an action they are willing to take to try to fix the problem. With this option they are accepting full responsibility.
- Ask them to give you permission to take action on their behalf to fix the problem. Here you are accepting the responsibility. In some situations, this may be the only way the problem can be effectively resolved.
- Ask them to agree to take action with you at their side for support in an attempt to fix the problem. You share the responsibility and can physically be there to lend support while they confront the issues and problem-solve.
- In rare cases, allow them time to think about what they want to do overnight. While they leave the conversation without an immediate commitment to action, you have their agreement that they will return the next day prepared to commit to one of the first three options.
This may feel uncomfortable and insensitive at first and it may take some practice on your part to build your confidence and skills, but it really works. For those people who are just there to vent about the same issue over and over again (Time Vampires), you are gently directing them to take action to resolve their issues so they can move on. If individuals are unwilling to commit to any action, you may need to dig a little deeper to better understand their hesitancy and remove their obstacles. If they just enjoy the venting, and some people do, you will be sending a clear message that you are no longer a fun place to “dump” and you will teach them how to address their issues in a productive way.
This method allows you to still be fully present for those individuals who have legitimate issues and need your help. But for those Time Vampires, you will be setting a healthy and effective personal boundary which will move them out of their comfort zone into action, improve their work environment and support their personal growth. For HR professionals or any leader in fact, that is when you truly bring your greatest value.
So remember, when faced with a Time Vampire who is complaining about the same issue over and over and over and over again…
MOVE THEM TO ACTION!
What challenges do you face with Time Vampires?