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Melissa Shanahan

#246: PSA: Stop Complaining About Your Team

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As an owner, you are inevitably going to experience frustration with all aspects of running a law firm, whether it’s your team, processes, or results. It’s easy to fall into the trap of complaining in times of frustration, but Melissa is putting out an important PSA this week that you must heed: stop complaining about your team. 

Expending energy wallowing in problems doesn't just keep you stuck. It can have direct, long-lasting negative impacts on your firm because if you’re focused on complaining, you aren’t focused on effective problem-solving. Whether you’re currently aware of how much you’re complaining or wonder how bad it can really be, listen in for a wake-up call.

Tune in this week as Melissa offers four reasons why you must stop complaining about your team, how complaining is negatively impacting the kind of culture, morale, and productivity you want to see within your firm, and a couple of exercises to try the next time you catch yourself complaining.

If you’re a law firm owner, Mastery Group is the way for you to work with Melissa. This program consists of quarterly strategic planning facilitated with guidance and community every step of the way. Join the waitlist right now to grab one of the limited seats when enrollment opens again!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• 4 reasons why you must stop complaining about your team.

• How complaining keeps you from taking the reigns in your business.

• Why you need to take 100% responsibility for the results your firm is producing.

• What happens when you get stuck in a cycle of complaining about your team.

• Exercises to try when you catch yourself complaining.

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Melanie Leonard

Mark Holmer

Randa Prendergast

Lawyer Forward by Mike Whalen

Joey Vitale

Olivia Vizachero

Seth Price

Wouter IJgosse

Jordan Ostroff

#245: Putting Band-Aids on Problems vs Root Cause Analysis

How to Use The 1-3-1 Framework in Business - Dan Martell

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Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast Episode #246.

Welcome to The Law Firm Owner Podcast, powered by Velocity Work, for owners who want to grow a firm that gives them the life they want. Get crystal clear on where you're going, take planning seriously, and honor your plan like a pro. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Hi, guys, welcome to this week's episode. I am back after a quick trip to Chicago for the ABA TECHSHOW. It was very fast for me. I wasn't going to be able to go, and last minute some things with our family schedule shifted that allowed me to go. So, I flew in on Thursday afternoon, I got there, and flew back Friday afternoon. So, it was super-fast.

But I love the ABA TECHSHOW, mostly because I get to see from a vendor perspective what's going on, and the booths, and I get to meet people doing really cool things in the space. I also love to get to see other professionals in the legal industry that are doing really great things that I admire, I look up to, and I love to connect with when possible. There's just not a lot of chances to get together with these individuals on a regular basis.

So, this is just such a fun conference to me. I also got to meet a new Mastery group member who happened to be in Chicago for the event; all the way from Hawaii. Isn't that crazy? So cool. I got to meet that new member and connect with a couple of other members. It's just fun. It was a fun 24 hours.

I had the pleasure of going to dinner with a group of about 10 people on Thursday night. We had our own room in this restaurant, which was super fun. This table was just full of people that make me smile. I love hearing about what they're up to. I love hearing about what they're learning, what they're implementing, and how they're thinking. It was just a blast.

After that, we went to the Clio after-party, which was also super fun, and funny, I got to see even more people there than I thought I would get to, and so that was very fun. It was just a wonderful night.

A few shout outs to people that I did get to have conversations with that left a mark on me. Melanie Leonard from, Mark Homer of GNGF, Randa Prendergast; she's known as the “attorney whisperer.” Her company is Mrs. June Legal. Mike Whalen, who works for Law Insider now but has an incredible book that he wrote called Lawyer Forward, and his wife; got to connect with them.

Joey Vitale, whose company he's mainly focused on is Skybreaker; got to talk to him. It had been way too long since I had seen him. Mitch Zoll, who is a member of Mastery group, but he also does some writing for the ABA in Austin. He does some technology writing; I'm probably butchering that, Mitch, if you're listening. I don't know exactly what you were doing there, but I know you're doing writing around technology for something to do with the ABA.

Olivia Vizachero, who's behind The Less Stressed Lawyer; great to see her and catch up with her. She spoke a couple of times at that event. Seth Price, of BluShark Digital and also Price Benowitz firm.

Wouter IJgosse, he's the founder of DecisionVault. I've met him a few times. I adore him. I love what he's up to. I really like his product. I've watched someone demo that product, and he's been on the podcast before talking about it; it's an intake application. He's a genius, in my opinion. So, I really loved connecting with him.

I saw Jordan Ostroff for just a second, but long enough that he gave me an advanced copy of his book. It's called Love Your Law Firm, and that comes out I believe in April. So, super close. Big congrats to him. And then, of course, Giselle Urbina was with me on behalf of Velocity Work at the conference. If you don't know Giselle, you will get to know her more. I'm going to have her on the podcast.

She has been working, in a very important way, with our clients and our members. We're just so thrilled to have her as part of our team. So, you will hear more from her. But it was just so great to have her with me at the conference.

I don't know if I'm forgetting anybody, but if I am, please forgive me. I'm just funneling through names as I'm thinking of them off the top of my head. I enjoyed my time so much there, with everyone I got to connect with.

Okay, well, let's dig into today's topic. It's building off of last week's topic, which was all about root cause analysis. So, if you haven't listened to that one yet, I think it's a great place to start. There's a reason I'm recording this after I did that episode. So, I would highly recommend to go back there.

The reason that I recorded that one was because I really wanted to record this one, and I realized that there was some foundational stuff that I needed to talk about before I brought up today's topic. Today, I want to put out a PSA that says: Stop complaining about your team. I have so much to say on this, I'm going to try to get through the points rather quickly so I'm not just harping on something.

But the reason I'm doing this episode is because when I hear owners complain about their team, there is no problem solving there. There's no looking towards a solution. There's no taking 100% responsibility for the results you have created as an owner. And so, it's disempowering. It's indulgent to spend time complaining about something. There's no use there for the energy that's being expended, it's just a waste.

I also want to say that I understand. I understand that there's times where there's frustrations, and it naturally, without thought and without awareness, you can easily go into complaining about the situation, about the person, whatever it might be. I want today to serve as a wakeup call to stop doing that, to catch yourself when you do it.

Because it doesn't help anything. It hurts things, even though you may not see the negative direct impact that it can have, it does. It has a negative impact. And so, today's episode may be can be a wakeup call for some of you who, even if you're not bad, you don't complain all the time, but maybe you can start to catch yourself when it does happen so that you can handle this differently.

Because as the owner of your firm, it cannot hurt, it can only help for you to take 100% responsibility for the results that are happening in your firm, period. There's no buts. There's no caveats. There's no disclaimer. It's that, it's that you should take 100% responsibility for all the results that happen in your firm.

And if you are unhappy with something, then there is a way to address it that is productive, or is using energy towards something, a shift, that you want to see, instead of spinning in your own frustration; wallowing in what's wrong, in your opinion; wallowing in assumptions. Not taking the reins. Complaining is not taking the reins.

Even if you think, “Well, I do complain, but then I take the reins,” no, can we just skip the complaining part? There is a time and a place for venting, and I will talk about that, but it is not with anyone on your team. Not anyone. I don't care if you're the CEO, and the visionary and the strategist of your firm, and you have a COO, not even to them do you complain.

This is not something that's reserved for the leadership team. This is not something that's reserved for anyone, at all, who's on your team. And listen, this may be clear from what I just said a moment ago, but I don't care how much you trust the person that you're complaining to about another team member or about something that keeps going wrong, it needs to stop.

There is zero upside for doing that, except some sort of release for you and a connection with this other person over something that you should not even be connecting on. You should be connecting on solutions. Connecting on all the things, the values, and all the things that create the kind of culture that you actually want to see in your firm. You complaining is the antithesis of what you want to see in your firm. So, don't do it.

You have to be the kind of owner that can have the kind of firm that you really wish to have. You'll never see a team that has the right culture, the right morale, the right level of productivity, the right level of enthusiasm, and the right level of results being created inside the firm and for clients. You will never see that kind of a team with an owner that's complain-y, never.

So, you have to be the kind of owner that you need to be in order to have the kind of firm you need to have. If you want a firm that's sans b.s., then you need to be sans b.s. You need to stop complaining, so the team can follow and you are a model for the team. You are a model for how things go.

When you complain to anyone, anyone who gets a whiff of your complaining on your team, that has to stop. If it's not going to stop that just means you're being stubborn. It means you’re getting in your own way. It means you refuse to rise up above that, and learn and teach yourself how to be a different way.

I realize that this comes across as maybe I'm being harsh or cold. Listen, I've just had enough conversations with owners that are stuck in this. And so much so, that when I offer reflective questions they can't even hear them. They're not open to looking at this from an angle that will truly be productive.

Because a lot of the time it means they need to humble themselves enough to be able to say, “How have I contributed to this? How will I do something different so that it doesn't happen the same way in the future again? And if it does happen in the future again, I get a choice into how I'm going to respond.”

The indulgent way to respond is to fly off with complaints about the person or about the thing. Instead, how are you going to choose to respond? How can you be proactive with thinking about how you're going to respond in those moments?

Because you will be frustrated in the future, that is not going to stop. As an owner, you will have frustrating moments with team, you will have frustrating moments with processes, all of it. How are you going to be the kind of owner that responds to those frustrations differently than with complaining?

Okay, I am going to go through a few reasons why. I mean, I just gave the gist, right? So, maybe you could read between the lines. But I am going to offer some for real points on why you need to make sure that complaining is not a part of what you do in ownership of a business.

Number one, when you complain, it creates and contributes to a negative work environment. I have sort of talked around this. But specifically, it decreases morale, it decreases motivation, it decreases job satisfaction for your team.

People can feel when you're complaining behind the scenes, it means you're seething a bit, people can feel that in your energy. So complaining, definitely it either creates a negative work environment or it contributes.

Number two, the reason to stop complaining is that erodes trust. When people know that you're complaining about other team members, or they even catch wind of it, that erodes trust. They assume that anytime that you're frustrated with anything, anytime that you have a thought that might not be super positive, someone else is going to hear about it from them. It's very gossipy. And when you create that expectation among your team, it creates fear and it erodes trust.

The third reason, is that it hampers problem solving. This goes back to last week's episode with root cause analysis. Problem solving should be your number one thing as an owner. And usually, if you are an owner, you are good at problem solving. But when you use your energy in complaining, then you rob the ability to be able to problem solve at the level that you can and should be problem solving.

So, focusing on complaining rather than getting to a productive solution, your organization will feel that, and you will feel that. Think about long game versus short game and how this plays out ultimately, at the end. This is not creating what you want to create, when you complain and it takes away from problem solving. Whether you realize it or not, it does. It hampers problem solving anytime there's complaining involved.

And the fourth and final reason I'm sharing here… though, I think there's more reasons. But these felt like the most important ones… is that it reflects poorly on you. You will get a reputation for saying things that you shouldn't say, for having loose lips about certain things. And that's not the reputation you want as an owner and other team members coming into the firm.

Talk about wanting to build something you really want to build? This is the way to do the opposite of that. To hold yourself back. To create your own barriers. So, this will reflect poorly on you. People pick up on it.

I have worked with people that have done a lot right. But this is a thing, and the team knows it. The team knows that when something goes wrong, behind closed doors someone in the organization, they're talking smack, and that does not reflect well.

Okay, so I have a couple of exercises that you can do to help yourself pull yourself in a different direction when you catch that you are complaining, even in your mind. Because even if you're not complaining to someone else, you're just complaining internally; that's also not a good use of energy.

So, anytime you see complaining on the horizon for yourself, there's two things I'm going to give you on this podcast that I think will really help. One of the exercises I refer to as BSP. It stands for Barriers, Strategies, and Payoffs. The reason that this exercise is so great, is because it forces you into solution mode, a solution-oriented way of thinking.

Barriers, I will have, when I'm working with a client on this, I'll have them state the barriers that they either are dealing with or that they foresee on the way to their goals. And so, when they write down a barrier, instead of then moving to the strategy on how to fix the barrier, I will ask them:

If this barrier was not a thing, if this was not a problem, and you could just wave a magic wand and that was the case, what would the outcome look like? What is that? What's the payoff to that? Paint the picture for me as if this is solved. Then, they'll start to paint the picture.

Let's just say, for instance, that they said one of the barriers was getting Susie on board. Susie isn't going to be on board. Okay, so that's a barrier. Now, if this wasn't an issue, paint the picture for me. What would this look like for you and for the firm?

And they would say, “Well, her morale would be better, and so that would rub off on the team around her. People would be more productive. The energy would be higher. Clients be getting better service. She's a linchpin in our organization. And so, if she is not going to be on board, it's going to rub off on everybody. If she is on board, it really helps keep team focused in the ways that they should be focused.”

Then I'll say, “Okay, now, I want you to come up with strategies to create that scenario. What are some things that you could put into play, some solutions, some strategies, that will deliver you to everybody being engaged, the morale being high, and that matter for the team?” They will start thinking of things that they can do that foster this energy that they're looking for from their team.

Now, the difference is… they gave me the barrier of Suzie isn't going to be on board… the difference is, they would try to come up with solutions to fix Susie. I don't want solutions to fix Susie. I want solutions to create the ideal scenario. And so, this gets you out of problem-solving mode. You're trying not trying to fix the actual barrier, you're trying to solve for the ideal outcome that you're really looking for.

That puts your brain in a whole different space. This is similar to, when we feel complain-y, it's good to get the complaints down so that we can see, “Oh, this is the barrier that I'm up against. Okay, what if it wasn't? What would that look like?” Paint that picture. Write about it. Talk about it in a voice memo, or write in your journal. What is that end game, that would be the case if this wasn't a barrier?

When you paint that picture, then the question becomes: What solutions or strategies can I put into place to create that outcome? Not to fix my complaint. That is a very fruitful exercise. It's a brain exercise that gets your brain used to thinking in a more productive way.

The second tool I'm going to give you… So, that was BSP. That's what I call that: Barrier, Solutions, Pay offs. The second tool I'm going to give you is the 1-3-1. This is something that I don't know who originated this idea. It has been most recently, that I've read, talked about in Dan Martell's book.

1-3-1 talks about, if you bring a complaint, I want to see three possible solutions. And then the one that you would likely go with, and why. That's 1-3-1: one complaint, three possible solutions, and one that you would choose. It opens up for a really pointed discussion for problem solving.

Now, this is something that is recommended for teams to do with their bosses. “Don't just come with problems to me. Don't come to me, as your boss, with problems. Come with the complaint, three solutions that you have, three ideas that you have, and the one that you would choose. Then that lets us have a really productive conversation.”

You can use this with yourself as the complainer. When you are just spinning in complaints, and spewing complaints, you're sort of complaining inside, or to someone else that you shouldn't be complaining to, then you can write down: What is the complaint?

Now, if you're doing root cause analysis, you can ask the “Five Whys;” that builds on last week's episode. You could see, “Okay, this is the complaint. But why is that happening? Oh, well, probably because of X, Y,  and Z. Okay, why is X, Y, and Z happening?” You can get underneath it.

Either way, you get the complaint down, and then you ask yourself: If this was not a thing, if this was not a problem, what outcome would actually be the case? How can I paint that picture? I want to become very familiar with what it looks like when this thing isn't a problem.

Then you can ask yourself: Okay, what can I do as an owner, as a leader? What strategies can I put into place to create that outcome that will, of course, solve for the complaint that I have? I'm focused on creating the outcome I want, not on fixing my complaint.” This is sort of another way to look at it.

Okay, hopefully, that jogged something for you as listeners. I'm talking to you as if you are the worst complainer; that's the way it feels like as I'm recording this. But the truth is, we all have this part of us that we need to work on. We all have these frustrations. And depending on our mood, depending on the amount of sleep we have, depending on our state of mind, depending on how well practiced we are with this, we tend to complain. That's the human thing to do.

So, I just want to advise you to commit to stop doing that. Do not complain about your team. Do not complain about the internal workings of your firm. Take the reins, be responsible, take responsibility for this. And ask yourself some high-quality questions that can put you into solution mode, and get you out of the gossipy, complain-y, whiny nature that we tend to fall in.

Some of us are better than others, but we all have room for improvement here. So, that's why I'm doing this episode. Take what you need from this episode. My goal is to meet you where you are with this episode. And what can you implement that will boost how you are operating as an owner, when it comes to frustrations in your business?

Cut complaining, and shift to strategies and solving for the complaints so that you're creating this ideal outcome that you're really wanting. It gets your focus on the right thing instead of on the wrong thing.

All right, everybody. Have a wonderful week. I'll see you here next Tuesday.

Hey, you may not know this, but there's a free guide for a process I teach called Monday Map/Friday Wrap. If you go to, it's all yours. It's about how to plan your time and honor your plans. So, that week over week, more work that moves the needle is getting done in less time. Go to to get your free copy.

Thank you for listening to The Law Firm Owner Podcast. If you're ready to get clearer on your vision, data, and mindset, then head over to where you can plug in to Quarterly Strategic Planning, with accountability and coaching in between. This is the work that creates Velocity.

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