Most people complain every day. The same goes for executives and managers. More importantly, they transfer their emotions onto others, which is reflected in the short, humorous dialogue below. So why is it so easy to complain, but not to act?
Two managers who haven’t seen each other for a while are getting together. One of them asks:
- What’s up? How’s your team, all good?
The answer: - Nothing interesting, better not ask, it’s a waste of time. Better tell me, how are you?
- Same old same old, constant changes, can’t do anything about it, and everyone is complaining.
The title question should be broken down into two: How can I stop complaining? First, we need to look at what causes complaining in order to find ways to deal with the problem. The second question is: How do I start? That is, how can I quickly break the habit and, as a manager, make sure I have a positive impact on myself and my team?
Complaining seems innocent enough, after all, it’s usually just ‘small talk’ at work or about work, a way of venting our negative emotions in order to temporarily improve our mood. In fact, at first, complaining may help relieve stress, soothe our nerves, and boost our confidence - after all, things are going wrong around us, and it’s other people that are putting obstacles in front of us. But we managers are doing our jobs well. This approach is about improving our self-esteem and letting go of some responsibility.
When we complain to other people, there’s a good chance they will catch on. They may even take the same perspective. We then get the feeling that we’ve done something right and complaining in order to make things a little easier on ourselves becomes a habit. The consequences, however, are more far-reaching. By complaining, we show our dissatisfaction with the situation. We’re telling someone who isn’t able to help in any way about our negative experiences (just because you can complain doesn’t mean you can help). In fact, complaining makes it harder to act and creates a vicious circle. We whine and don’t act. We don’t act, so we whine. And so on.
This “small talk” isn’t just talk, but a reflection of how we perceive the world and how we relate to events in our professional lives. Innocent as it may seem, it creates a negative reality. Complaining is convenient because it doesn’t solve our problems or change anything, so there’s no risk that we will have to act. If we don’t act, we don’t risk failing, because there’s no responsibility.
What does complaining focus on and what does that take away from us?
As you can imagine, complaining focuses on the negative. This leads to a vicious cycle that’s hard to break. Our minds love to see patterns (even where none exist) and our attention itself has creative power. We strongly reinforce what we focus on, so when we complain all the time, we create a negative pattern. When we repeat a given behaviour and associate it with negative thoughts, it will eventually become a habit. Our brains then become more and more efficient at complaining and finding reasons to do so. Why? Because they treat complaining as something safe and familiar, developing an automatic reaction - a habit.
Such complaining winds up affecting those around us. There are two possible outcomes: either others will distance themselves from us, or we will find supporters and strengthen our dangerous habits together.
Complaining takes a lot out of us - we might even say that negativity is expensive. It hurts both the complainer and those around them, often making them keep their distance from each other. It destroys relationships. It raises stress levels (even though it may initially seem to do the opposite), and reinforces unpleasant memories. As a consequence, we lose our will to do anything, which can lead to feeling powerless. On the other hand, complaining prevents us from perceiving opportunity, since it kills our creativity and gives us a negative aura.
Few people perceive complaining as a serious threat. At first glance, it seems rather harmless and innocent. We believe that a little whining doesn’t really affect anything. However, as you can see, that’s not usually the case.