The thing is, complaining is bad for you. It’s bad for you physically, emotionally, and mentally. It’s bad for the people around you, too.
- Complaining makes us feel crummy.
It makes us feel worse, not better, and there is a physiological explanation for this. On a physical level, complaining floods cortisol (the stress hormone) into your system. Guy Winch, PhD, and author of The Squeaky Wheel, says, “We tell ourselves that [we need to complain because] we need to get it off our chest, but each time we do, we get upset all over again… [and we] end up 10 to 12 times more aggravated.”
- Complaining is distracting you from what you need to do.
Placing your focus on what there is to complain about is a distraction from what you can do to change your circumstances. It transfers your energy to what’s not working rather than what is working or what it would take to make things work even better. When you complain, it’s tricky. It feels like you are doing the brave thing; maybe even the authentic thing. It feels like you are taking action or taking a stand by voicing your unhappiness. (Complaining takes enough energy; something should come of it, right?) But the fact is, you aren’t really taking action and you’re not contributing to a solution. You are only focusing on what’s not working, which guess what? gets you more of what’s not working. And the energy you put into complaining prevents you from seeing how much control over the situation you have.
- Complaining is a drain on your time, energy, and relationships.
You often think that when you’ve complained, you have asked for something. But you haven’t. Despite that, you get angry at others for not giving you what you need, and you become unhappy, stressed, and disappointed. It shows up in how you are with the people in your life and tends to wear others out and erode your relationships.*
Become more aware during your day how much of the conversation around you follows a pattern of complaining. Remember, complaints show up in all kinds of forms; here are a few:
- My clients (or manager, stakeholders, or partners) are such ninnies. They can’t get their act together. They bring me projects at the last minute that are a total mess. The information I need to put the deal together is missing, yet they want it turned around in two days!
- I can’t believe Ted got that assignment; he is a massive idiot. I should’ve gotten it. My boss never gives me the assignments I want.
- I hate how Amy always comes by and plants herself in my office without asking if it’s a good time for me! She is so inconsiderate and clueless.
I know. It’s easy to fall into the habit of complaining. Everyone around you complains, right?
The thing is, when you complain, you aren’t taking responsibility for making things better (and you certainly aren’t owning it, like we talked about in Week 4 (Executive Presence–Bringing It)). Instead, you are taking what looks like the easy way out. And complaining is the easy way out, in the short run. But in the long run, it sets you up to stay stuck in a state of dissatisfaction and frustration, unable to create the outcomes you want and feeling let down by the people around you.
Pro tip: if you aren’t sure whether you are complaining, one way to get clarity is to start to notice those moments when you find yourself playing the blame game. Blaming others is often a signal that you’re complaining when you could be taking action.
*You might notice that complaining is common in professional and personal relationships; the guidance provided in this Lesson applies in both sectors. Whether at work or in our personal lives, relationships are key to success and fulfillment. You can use the tools you’ll learn this week to help you feel less powerless to change the situations you aren’t happy about. Your relationships will likely improve as a result.