Thursday, May 14, 2015

7 Tips for Dealing with Squeaky Wheels

By PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay
We've all met someone who we would classify as "the squeaky wheel." Squeaky wheels thrive on the ability to make noise about their situation as if it is so much worse than any other situation that exists, so that they can get the appropriate attention.

The old adage says, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." There is a huge problem with that statement, though. It purports the squeaky wheel to be a good thing. It encourages people to become squeaky.

Let's clear one thing up: If you have valid problems, then it is extremely important that you speak up. In that manner, this old adage holds true. You have to acknowledge and talk about your issues in order to have them addressed. Sitting in a corner speaking to no one about your issues is an extremely ineffective way to get them dealt with. That said, often those that speak up about their issues do so with a different intent that quiets the voices of the needy. Here are a few recommendations to separate these different wheels out (spoiler alert - some of these recommendations break the wheel analogy):

  1. Request Data - Anyone with a severe problem should be able to easily provide examples of that problem. Ask them how frequently the problem occurs and if you can see some samples. You should quickly be able to identify the real problems from noisemakers.
  2. Provide Data - Sometimes the individual sounding the alarm is doing so on anecdotes. Provide them some data to put their alarms in perspective and see if that helps change their tune.
  3. Force a Choice - Making excessive noise about problems is often a way of masking an inability or lack of desire to effectively prioritize. Be blunt. Ask them directly, "Would you rather me work on this problem that you are describing, or this other problem that you previously described as worse?" At a minimum you will only end up giving one of their wheels the grease.
  4. Cut Off The Wheel - The analogy breaks down on this one, but if you have evidence time and time again that the squeaky wheel is not the wheel with actual problems, shut it down. Ignore requests, directly address with lack of priority, or provide data to make work more objective. Stop letting yourself be influenced by noise and recognize what it is. If a squeaky wheel is distracting you from accomplishing your normal tasks, utilize whatever methods you have to shut out the negative influence. This tip comes with a big warning, however. You have to do this appropriately, carefully, and tactfully. If you don't, you might have a new problem: A squeaky wheel that informs everyone how unhelpful, counterproductive, or rude you are. Those conversations could lead to someone thinking that you are the root cause of the squeak.
  5. Make The Wheel Fix Itself - If only tires could do this in real life, I'd save hundreds of dollars that are currently sitting in Discount Tire's bottom line (great company - for another post). But when dealing with personalities that are bringing endless streams of problems your way, you can always give them the throwback - "What can you do to fix it?" Asking a question that puts it back on them is a freeing experience. Still requires discipline to deflect the inevitable response of "I want you to fix it for me," but it is a step in the right direction.
  6. Set a Timeline - This one is perhaps the most effective, depending on the situation. When someone brings a new problem to you, indicate that you will address it, but after you have completed your current tasks. It might even be beneficial, depending on the situation, to evaluate the other "wheels of the wagon" before you come back to the squeaky one. "Totally understand your issue, and we will get to that after we discuss the overall needs of the other two branches of the department" is a valid answer to anyone.
  7. Acknowledge Reality - Sometimes, the squeaky wheel looks for validation. Acknowledgement that someone else recognizes that there is a problem. The truth is that you can't fix everyone's problems just because they raise a flag. You can, however, acknowledge truth in that you recognize that their concern or problem is valid. You can use that same truth as well to acknowledge your ability or inability to assist them in solving that problem with the resources you have available.
Squeaky wheels are squeaky. That is the only predetermined fact. It is up to you to determine whether or not the complaints are valid, how much priority to apply, and why you should be working on that issue. Filter the real issues from the noise, and try not to squeak unnecessarily  yourself.