Why Do We Shame People for Complaining?

I’m guessing humans started complaining about work approximately 15 minutes after we invented language. It’s one of our favorite pastimes.

Gathering around the watering hole after an unsuccessful hunting expedition, Gorb complains to Grob, “Can you believe we spent all day chasing that Wooly Mammoth for nothing? I told the Chief Hunting Officer we didn’t have the right spears but you can’t talk to that guy. He does what he wants.”

I’ve done it.

You’ve done it.

We’ve all done it.

There are people who think complaining is bad, an evil presence to be purged at all costs. But is that really possible? And do we really want to flush all forms of negativity out of the organization?

I’m not so sure.

Who invited the party pooper?

Ever been in a meeting where someone dared question the logic of the proposal everyone else was cheering on with feigned enthusiasm? This is typically followed by public shaming and a reminder to get on board or get out the door. Secretly though, how many people in the room felt the same way but were afraid to say it because they didn’t want to appear “negative”.

Is this even healthy? Sure the way the message is delivered might be up for debate but can we live with someone who rains on the parade every now and then? We probably need those people around to keep us from enthusiastically driving off a cliff.

Misery loves company. 

So does fear, pain, frustration, worry, concern, etc. We’re reminded that we need to talk it out to work it out. So maybe we need a little complaining? It’s our way of dealing with this crazy work stuff that can be overwhelming at times. Knowing that someone else is feeling it too can help us press on. The one thing we all have in common in this human existence is the struggle. It’s no surprise we can immediately connect with almost anyone on that topic.

The fine line is probably where the conversation goes. Does it eventually turn towards how to overcome or change the situation or is it a downward spiral that makes everyone feel worse? And are you complaining at someone or discussing how the situation makes you feel? Done right, complaining can be a mutually affirming and solution oriented process of releasing stress and an important source of feedback.

Isn’t that kind of why so many people pay for therapy?

Got any cheese to go with that whine?

A lot of bosses like to say in their best important-sounding tone, “don’t bring me a problem without a solution”. The first person who follows this rule is handed the problem and assigned the responsibility to implement the solution. And, like magic, no more problems. It’s a perfect strategy.

I say, bring on the problems. The solution will follow if one is needed. If it comes with a couple of suggestions that’s great. Don’t we want to know about the problem sooner than later? Before it blows up into something much bigger?

Sure, some of the stuff might be petty or silly and those are just the things that eventually get out of hand.

Hail to the Drama Queen / King.

Where there are people there will be drama. It’s what we do. Of course, there are some people who work in drama the way an artist works in oils or watercolor. They seem to be at the center of every storm that blows through the team. Our first inclination is to rid the team of these trouble-makers ASAP if not sooner. And that may be necessary, but first, consider that we are also casting out a person who is probably one of the key influencers.

It’s not easy, but if we can channel these people toward influencing others in a positive way they can provide the reverse effect. Usually, these are people who just want to be heard. They are frustrated and unfulfilled.

Maybe, with the right opportunity and focus, they will be inspired to change course. I’ve seen it happen.

Are you kidding me?

Hey, I’m not here to advocate that we should tolerate a torrent of complaining, drama or negativity in our organizations I’m just offering another perspective. I think it’s time we stopped guilting and shaming ourselves and other people over this stuff and realize it’s part of being human.

Feeling bad about it or making others feel bad about it usually leads to doing it more, not less and may be generally unhealthy.

Positivity is a personal orientation we strive for, not the criteria for judging ourselves or others. It is not the absence of negativity. Without negativity, positivity has no meaning.

So, since we’re going to complain anyway, maybe we should focus on how to turn it into something useful. That’s positivity. Positive and negative energy were meant to work together.

Think of all those little atoms buzzing around in our bodies right now.

Maybe you just don’t like the word, “complaining”. Please feel free to call it venting, unloading,  speaking your mind or perhaps,

therapeutic work expression.

I like that last one. Feel free to use it in a PowerPoint presentation.

If you have any complaints about this post, please share them in the comments below.

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