Complaining, Resisting Change, or Speaking up?

In our fast-paced culture, change is a way of life. One thing I know for certain is that when making changes to systems, processes, and workflows, you must listen first and engage stakeholders. Without stakeholder input at every step of change, you run the risk of alienating the very people who must ultimately own the work.

I recently conducted a series of focus groups with physicians and practice managers to gain insight into operational issues that could be hindering appointment access. We learned that the providers were committed to delivering timely, high-quality services, but the necessary systems were badly fractured causing more work for them, frustration among patients, and even more delays in care. The resounding theme was that, “This could have been prevented if we had been asked.”

Complaining vs. Resisting

Sometimes, when staff or providers speak up, their input is perceived as complaining or resisting change. Here’s the difference:

  • Complaining often focuses on judging or blaming someone or something for the way we feel and often includes we/they language
  • Resisting change focuses on holding onto the old way of doing things because it is comfortable
  • Speaking up focuses more on facts and identifying concerns

Through leadership coaching, I’ve guided many leaders in recognizing the difference between the above. What is perceived as complaining is often someone speaking up to express concern. If the leader writes off input as complaining, they miss essential opportunities to engage team members in meaningful change.


If the leader writes off input as complaining, they miss essential opportunities to engage team members in meaningful change.


Embracing a Leader Mindset

One manager I was coaching said, “I wish they would stop complaining and just do what I say.” That sounded a bit like, “I’m the mommy, that’s why.” We went back to her goals of being a trusted, fair, and inclusive leader. Her next response was, “Hmmm. I’m not listening when I think this way. It isn’t building trust or including their ideas.”

Joint Commission and the National Institute of Health have promoted “Speak Up” campaigns to call attention to safety issues. It’s one thing to have a campaign and another to embrace the mindset and weave it throughout the culture.

As leaders, we will get further faster when we learn to set ego aside and become more curious. Ego causes us to get defensive and controlling which gets in the way of us entertaining new possibilities. When staff bring issues to your attention, get curious. Respond with, “Tell me more.” Or “Let’s expand on that a bit.”

Brene Brown has a great quote about curiosity. She said:

“Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty. It wasn’t always a choice; we were born curious. But over time, we learn that curiosity, like vulnerability, can lead to hurt. As a result, we turn to self-protecting—choosing certainty over curiosity, armor over vulnerability, and knowing over learning.”[i] 

The next time a team member brings up an issue pay attention to your initial response. Is it curiosity or defensiveness? Get curious. It can expand your options.

Baird Group consulting services can help you assess your culture, formulate a plan for a cultural transformation, and make changes that stick. Contact us today at or visit this link for more information


[i] Brene Brown; Rising Strong

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