Does anyone like a person who complains? We'd all like to answer that question the same way. We all would like to think that we don't like the whiners, naysayers, and chronic pessimists. And, to a certain degree, we'd be honest: negativity is a drag. It sucks the enthusiasm from our soul. It depletes our energy. And, it wastes our time.
But does it always?
If you're a boss, you might think that complainers are toxic. These are the people that sneak off into a corner to gripe to their friends about how certain aspects of your business should operate differently. If you're an employee, you also might think complainers are dangerous. These are the friends that pull you off into the corner to talk about their frustrations.
Is complaining always a bad thing, though? The answer is no. And I'll tell you why.
While all of us may encounter a few truly negative people in our lives, or find ourselves counseling a coworker going through a rough patch from time to time, the truth about most people is that they don't like complainers either. Most people aren't inherently negative. In fact, most people want to be positive, uplifting, and inspirational.
So, when, where, and why can complaining be a positive thing?
Think for a second about most of your coworkers. Many of them have positive relationships with you. You talk about things that need to be done at work. You talk about what you did over the weekend. You might talk about a new trick your dog learned, or how your kid caught the game-winning touchdown pass. These are great conversations, but many are superficial.
Other team members, however, will pull you into deep conversations. These are people who will share their personal and professional frustrations. They'll talk about the hurdles they face. They'll tell you about their personal goals. They'll vent about others in the office. And, they'll even talk smack about your boss, organization, clients, and vendors.
The irony about the complainers I just mentioned is that these are often the people you most likely consider your close friends (at least at work). Their openness reveals a certain level of trust--that they can share negative feelings with you that you won't reveal.
While many of us love to think that we're not complainers, or, as leaders, would hope that our employees aren't wandering off into corners to share their frustrations about us with each other, there's a bigger picture we need to realize. We all complain. And, the people we choose to complain to, are the people we trust the most. These are the people we truly consider our friends. These are the people we trust.
You may not always be aware of your complaints. But, you should be--if not during your rants, at least after your rants. Here are four questions you should ask yourself about your complaints.
1. Is it productive?
While we all need to vent from time to time, there is a difference between trying to positively change something, and simple griping. Ask yourself if your frustrations are directed toward creating positive change. If they are, your ideas for change could be productive, which means your organization probably wants to hear from you. Remember, some of the best ideas were born from frustration.
2. Is it personal?
There will always be people in our lives who rub us the wrong way. And guess what? That's okay. But ask yourself if your complaining about these people will change them. The answer is almost always no. So, if you're complaining about personal differences, you need to realize something important: it's a waste of your time and energy.
3. Is it persuasive?
If you're frustrated, it's natural to wonder if anyone else is frustrated as well. But don't underestimate your power of persuasion. Ask yourself if your complaints are changing your audience's perception of someone or something. And, try to weigh your words. If you're protecting someone who is being mistreated, you want to persuasive. But if you're influencing someone who would otherwise be happy, then you're just stealing their contentment.
4. Do you have a selective audience?
If you honestly step back and analyze your complaints, it's important to ask yourself about your audience. If you only complain about your work frustrations to one or two people, you're probably okay. This means you have some trusted friends at work. However, if your audience tends to be anyone who will listen, then you've got a bigger issue. You're either unhappy in your situation, or you're one of the rare negative people on this earth.
Complaining is natural throughout our lives and careers. But it's also something we all should analyze. And, if you can honestly ask yourself these four questions, you might find that your complaints are valid, productive, and empowering--because you're looking for ways to improve people, processes, and policies, rather than destroy them.