You walk around the corner and see him headed your way. As soon as you spot him, you start looking for a way out. Is there someone nearby you can talk to? An exit you can duck through? Anything to escape the conversation you know is coming.
He’s the office complainer, and most offices have at least one.
No matter how good things are going, he finds something to gripe about. In the bouquet of roses, he’ll be the first to complain about anything resembling a thorn. Nothing pleases him, he finds fault in every decision made, and he seems to thrive on drama and negativity.
Chronic complaining is like a virus, sapping energy, draining ambition and running rampant. It infects even the healthiest of workplaces, limiting productivity, progress and teamwork. Complaining sucks up time and energy better spent on high-leverage activities and initiatives.
At its core, complaining is a culture-killer.
On the surface, complainers appear easy to spot. It’s possible that specific names and faces came immediately to mind. We can identify the complainers around us, but often overlook the one complainer we control: Ourselves.
A habit of complaining is easy to spot in others but often difficult to identify in ourselves. People say that complaining is like bad breath: We notice when it comes from someone else’s mouth, but not when it comes from our own.
Here are a few questions to ask to help us identify our own complaining:
What is my intent in sharing?
It’s always important to consider intent. Are you looking for a new perspective? Are you asking for help in resolving the issue? Often when we complain, improvement and problem resolution aren’t the end-goal. We’re most often looking for people to empathize with us, affirm us or take our side. While this isn’t always an issue, it also isn’t productive.
Who am I telling about this problem?
After evaluating your own motives, look at who you’re talking to. Are you only sharing with those who will commiserate and support your complaints? Or are you sharing with someone with the power to help fix the issue or provide perspective? Again, the issue here comes down to productivity of the discussion and awareness.
Am I complaining about this often?
Imagine a coworker complains to you about an issue multiple times. Each time it’s the same story, and by the end of it the issue is no closer to resolution than before. Repeated complaining for the sake of complaining is not only unproductive, but it staves off productivity. The more you complain, the less likely resolution is, the worse you’ll feel, and the less credible you become to those listening.
Are you recommending solutions or just complaining?
When approaching any concern, the goal should be improvement, resolution and correction of that concern. Let the ultimate question in the conversation be, “How can we fix it?” Don’t approach the table with gripes and no suggestions or solutions. If you approach with problems and no solutions, you’ve slipped into unproductive complaining.
Creating and sustaining a positive, healthy culture requires our constant attention. Culture can be completely derailed by subtle and all-too-common behaviors like complaining. If we want to reduce the impact of chronic complaining on our culture, it must start with us. Before we try to change “them,” we need to identify the problems in our own behavior. Once we’ve done that, we can then move towards positive change in ourselves and our team.