Steps Towards a Complaint-free Workplace
Have you ever stopped to consider how often you complain during an average day, what you complain about, who you complain to, and how it makes you feel – whether you’re even aware of it or not? Or maybe you do become aware, but only once you’re in the thick of it, or finished doing so, but feel powerless to do anything about it?
Oxford defines the act of complaining as expressing dissatisfaction or annoyance about something. Synonyms include protesting, grumbling, moaning, whining, bleating, lamenting, criticizing, running down, kicking up a fuss, bellyaching, whinging, griping, kvetching… the list goes on.
Before we introduce our challenge, let’s look at what happens to us when we complain. Although it may initially feel good to do so, there are several reasons why we should work hard to avoid the instant gratification of complaining.
Impact on the Brain
What we believe physically changes our brain. Dr. Michael Merzenich (one of the most globally renowned neuroscientists) discovered that, in addition to experiences and behaviours, thoughts and thought patterns are inseparable from how the brain wires itself. As such, negative thoughts and habits (such as complaining) negatively impact the brain’s structure. While everyone whines openly on occasion, most of us do so more than we think. Some research findings indicate we complain about once a minute during a conversation; others say we complain 15 to 30 times a day. When complaints go through our brains on a continuous basis, they alter our thought processes, which in turn leads to behavioural changes – usually not for the better.
It doesn’t help that our brains are naturally wired to focus more on the negative than the positive (the negativity bias). Dr. Rick Hanson explains that “negative stimuli produce more neural activity” and are more easily/quickly perceived. So, when we gripe and whine about things consistently, our neurons are consistently firing, which leads to the negativity bias, which leads to complaining more often. It’s essentially a negativity feedback loop.
Impact on our Health
When we complain a lot, our bodies release the stress hormone cortisol, which is linked to flight or fight mode. This helps explain why it sometimes seems to feel good when we’re all fired up, moaning about this, that or the other thing. The downside is that our blood pressure increases, as does sugar in the bloodstream. Over time, this can have a significantly negative impact on our immune systems.
Impact in the Workplace
Many of us have worked with people who constantly complain about everything – and we know this can create a toxic work environment. Another impact is that focusing more on the negative, or how bad we have it, tends to become a habit. And then, in what’s called “confirmation bias,” we find ways to validate the complaint or negative thought patterns. From there, things snowball and it’s a competition to prove who has it the worst or who’s had the worst day. Accordingly, complainers gravitate to other complainers, attempt to rile co-workers up, or unconsciously try to bring new recruits under their wing. This not only promotes further toxicity, negatively affects workplace relationships and diminishes trust, but also demotivates people, leading them to not bother trying. This, in turn, results in a lack of performance, creativity, innovation and overall productivity.
While you may have read articles that discuss the positive effects of complaining, it’s important to get clear on how complaining is defined. Expressing legitimate concern or voicing an appropriate opinion, as well as being respectfully candid and honest, is important, not only for maintaining solid relationships, but also not harbouring resentment (which itself leads to all kinds of nasty symptoms). On the flipside, constant bemoaning without effective and proactive action, about one’s sad lot in life, or about how other people don’t measure up, is just plain not helpful. So, what should we do instead?
- Rather than merely whine about it, address it. If you’re unhappy with a person’s behaviour or work, let them know directly, professionally and respectfully, or speak with their manager.
- If you’re unhappy with circumstances at work or home, think about what you can do to change or positively impact it. Be the change you want to see.
- If there’s nothing you or anyone can do about a situation (e.g. the weather or traffic), let it go. No amount of grumbling will change it.
- Allow yourself to feel what you feel in the moment. Not complaining doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel frustration, anger or sadness (for example). It means not fueling a passing feeling with your mind and then acting on it. Meditation practice can be particularly helpful here.
- Turn that frown upside down. Try to see the humour in things (e.g. while stuck in traffic, how many people in cars are singing along or car-dancing to the same song you are?)
- Vent appropriately by channelling your energy into a walk, a workout, even a silent scream, if that will help.
- Watch your language. i.e. avoid the use of words like “but”; e.g. “my weekend was great, but…”
- Whenever you feel like or catch yourself complaining, shift your focus to something you’re grateful for. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, practicing gratitude has been shown to reduce cortisol by 23%.
- Join us in the complaint-free challenge! (details below)
Starting in October, the gang at Jouta will join over 11 million people across the world who’ve taken the Will Bowen Complaint Free challenge. Here’s how it works:
Individuals/small teams – Sign up with Jouta today to join us on our journey; the first 50 people to email Cori with the subject line ‘I want to be complaint free!’ will receive a bracelet and regular support updates (please be sure to include your mailing address). The first person to reach 21 days complaint free will win a gratitude prize (top secret until you complete the task)!
Employers/large teams – Order bracelets for you and your teams directly from the Will Bowen website.
Whether you choose to join us or go directly through Will Bowen, the process is as follows:
- Once you put the bracelet on, day 1 has begun
- Whenever you complain, move the bracelet to the other wrist, which means you’re now back on day 1
- Continue doing so until you’ve completed 21 days without a single complaint, keeping in mind that most people take between 4 and 8 months to complete the full challenge
- Track your progress using an habit tracking app such as, me, Way of Life, or Strides
- Keep us updated on social media by tagging @JoutaGroup
Stick with it and support one another respectfully; it won’t be easy, but it will be worth it