I grew up in French-speaking Montreal, and as a young woman I spent enough time in Paris to appreciate the fact that the French have raised complaining to an art form-- the Gallic shrug of the shoulders is practically built into the language. (But of course not all French people are complainers.)
So when I heard that a book titled Quit Complaining: 21 Days to Reconnect to the Bliss of Ordinary Life became a best-seller in France, I knew it was time for a closer look. The book invites readers to stop complaining so much (for you Francophiles: J'arrête de râler!), and it's been translated into eight languages, a clear indication that complaining is a widespread issue.
It turns out the author, Christine Lewicki, is an executive coach who splits her time between France and California and what she has to say speaks volumes about how entrepreneurs can better run their companies, without driving themselves and their teams nuts. A complainer, she says, is choosing "to be a victim of the situation instead of being an actor of the solution."
I couldn't agree more. Here are our two tips for coming to grips with complaining:
1. Don't complain about things that are within your power to change.
It's okay to complain about the weather or traffic (even if it's not a great use of your emotional energy) because you can't do anything about them. But there are things we complain about at work that could be solvable problems or exploitable business opportunities.
When I was CEO of an international development consulting firm that I founded, I spent three years complaining to colleagues that there was no central clearing house where the major players could share ideas and best practices for how to address the global youth unemployment crises. Finally, a mentor told me if I felt so strongly about it, why didn't I create one myself?
After enlisting the support of major foundations and government agencies, I did just that, and within a few years, our annual summit was doing a lot of good in the world, and established my company as a global thought leader which paved the way for a successful acquisition a decade later.
2. Appreciate the now.
American entrepreneurs may not be in the same class that your average French person can be when it comes to complaining. (And again, not all French people are complainers.) But our relentless focus on growing our businesses bigger and better often means we forget to appreciate what we've already accomplished.
While the entrepreneur herself may not be complaining (although we often do, about the lack of time and money and nagging staffing issues), what happens is that in our rush to tackle the next problem, we fail to recognize the accomplishments of our team that got us through the last hurdle. Or maybe we obsess that it wasn't handled perfectly-- classic entrepreneur perfectionism.
What likely happens is that staffers feel unheard or taken for granted. And then they complain-- maybe not to our faces, but in sotto voce water cooler talk that undermines company morale.
Christine and I discovered that we both open our staff meetings devoted to team members talking about what they're most proud of doing since the last meeting. That also happens to be a great way to find out what really makes your company tick.
And just as we make room in our meetings for gratitude, Henry Edwards, an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania's positive psychology program who 21-day no-complaining challenge, recommends that we try to create space in our own thinking so we don't react to every annoyance, whether at work or at home, because it just magnifies the irritation. Edwards dubs this pause "GAP," or "Gratitude-Acceptance-Patience."vlogs about accepting Christine's
When an employee come to you with a complaint, take a pause, filter out the emotion-- theirs and yours-- listen for the value they are offering, and involve them in offering a solution. While you won't take every piece of advice, offer a genuine "thank you."