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Dealing With Complainers

Sebastian Fröstl

Engineering Manager at Atlassian

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Problem

"While working at Small Improvements, I was managing a team of four people while also hiring and recruiting. We had just hired a candidate who was still in his probation period. His onboarding was going okay, but I realized he was beginning to complain a lot. He also wouldn't deliver much, but would instead give excuses and would blame other factors for the problems. We were in a startup, so everyone needed to be very self-sustaining, thinking for themselves and coming up with solutions for themselves."

Actions taken

"I gave him regular feedback during our one-on-ones and explained that his complaints weren't constructive - he would hit a problem, complain, and then not do anything to fix the problem, so it was just ranting. I then asked him what he could do differently. We discussed him coming up with solutions for himself and that I could give him ownership over problems. For example, I told him that if he was unhappy with the stories we had, he could write them for us. However, he came up with excuses for why that wouldn't work. I tried to make it clear to him that complaining wasn't going to help and that what would help is if he came up with solutions. We had innovation weeks and hackathons, so I explained that if he was unhappy with a technology we were using, he should use those weeks to find a solution, and should convince others, for example, by giving a brown bag talk about the benefits of his solution."

Lessons learned

"I did the right actions, if not the perfect ones, in giving the engineer the ability to change what they were complaining about. In the end, the engineer didn't make it through his probation period, because he was unhappy with the company. However, this outcome was okay because he realized that he needed much more structure than a startup could provide. When dealing with complainers, you need to give them more accountability and allow them to change what they are complaining about. I used this technique again after this situation and it really worked well, because they grew and ended up surprising me in terms of what they could do."


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Sebastian Fröstl

Engineering Manager at Atlassian


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