Everyone knows that complaining is bad. It is bad for your relationships, bad for your career and probably even bad for your health.
But, why do people do it? Why do they indulge something that they know is bad?
I suspect that complaining is a habit, a habit of thought that is inculcated through the school system and the media.
Once it becomes a habit it feels normal. It feels right. It even feels good.
Complaining is about finding fault. It is about obsessively talking about what is wrong.
How do people acquire this habit?
Take an example. How many schoolchildren learn to find fault with America? How many teachers believe that if they are not tearing down the country they are not teaching history correctly?
When you see American history in terms of a battle between oppressors and the oppressed, when you see American success as exploitation of the poor and disadvantaged, when you find nothing that deserves unalloyed praise… you are teaching children to think critically and to think negatively.
In more pedestrian terms, you are teaching them to find fault, to reject any positive interpretation… and to end up chronically complaining about America.
When these students go to college they learn that it’s not just America. Western civilization is an organized criminal conspiracy, one that must be deconstructed. They learn that it’s all about racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia… ad nauseam. They learn to pick through texts in order to find evidence of these deadly sins.
Right or wrong, they have been habituated to confuse thinking with complaining. In fact, they have been taught that complaining is good, that finding fault is a proper activity. After all, how can you correct errors if you do not see them?
But, if you spend all of your time looking for faults, you will have no time left to correct any of them.
Children learn this at school. Once it becomes habitual, children will apply it outside of the classroom.
They have learned to criticize; they have learned to find fault; in many cases that’s all they know how to do. They will complain about their friends; they will complain about their relationships; they will complain about their favorite football team; they will complain about their jobs.
Once you develop a habit, even a habit of thought, it will have what feels like a life of its own. You do not get to turn it on and off. It is on automatic pilot.
People who suffer from this habit feel comfortable tearing everything apart. It’s familiar. They have mastered the skill. It feels like the normal thing to do.
If you suffer from this habit, you would do well to examine Selena Rezvani’s article in Forbes. Rezvani limits herself to the negative fallout from complaining.
Obviously, it is useful to be able to identify what is going wrong when something is going wrong. Yet, chronic complainers are always finding things that are going wrong. They never see things going right.
They tell themselves that they are helping people to improve. And yet, their chronic complaining makes it impossible, after a time, to take any of their criticisms seriously.
The more you complain the more people will tune you out.
Besides, if you tell someone that he is always getting things wrong, you will demoralize him. At that point, good luck trying to motivate him to do a better job.
Rezvani approaches the problem from the correct angle. While you are feeling righteous and virtuous for pointing out everything that is wrong with your company, your colleagues will be seeing something else.
First, they believe that you are unproductive, to say nothing of disloyal. How can you be contributing to the good of the company when you are tearing it down all the time?
The energy you spend finding problems cannot at the same time be spent solving problems.
Second, everyone will assume that you are complaining about them… behind their backs. And they will probably be right.
Third, they will not trust you and will not want to confide in you. Rezvani expresses it well:
If you’re seen as a complainer, people will not respect your view in a meeting the same way they would someone who evenhandedly considers all angles. By complaining too much, you’re etching away at your credibility and essentially declaring to the world, “Don’t take my ideas very seriously, they’re probably negative, partial or one sided.”
Fourth, you will appear to be rigid and negative, thus, incapable of adapting to change.
Fifth, everyone will assume that you cannot take responsibility. People who complain about others all the time are shifting the blame. Does that sound familiar?
One of the key reasons we complain is that when we pin the fault on someone else, we don’t have to look at our own behavior. And yet, in my interviews with top senior leaders, the higher an executive moves up, the more personal responsibility they need to take for their actions and results. A seasoned complainer rarely takes personal ownership – which only underscores the sense of powerless that got them complaining in the first place.
Finally, no one wants to be associated with a complainer. Everyone knows that complainers are not team players. They do not know how to cooperate with others.
If you associate with them they will bring you down. Moreover, if you associate too closely with them their bad reputation will rub off on you.