By Jeff Keller
How do you feel when someone unloads all of their problems and complaints on you? Not very uplifting and energizing, is it? The truth is, nobody likes to be around a complainer — except, perhaps, other complainers.
Of course, all of us complain at one time or another. The important question is: how often do you complain? If you’re wondering whether you complain too much, simply ask your friends, relatives or coworkers. They’ll let you know.
Now, when I say “complain,” I’m not talking about those instances when you discuss your problems in an attempt to search for solutions. That’s constructive and commendable. I’m also not referring to those occasions when you share your experiences (including disappointments) with friends or relatives in the context of bringing them up to date on the latest developments in your life. After all, part of being human is sharing our experiences and supporting each other.
I am referring to the kind of complaining that is counterproductive. For instance, one of the most common areas of complaint is the subject of illness. In this category are comments such as, “My back is killing me” or “I have terrible stomach cramps.” Worse yet, some people graphically explain the gory details of their particular ailment (e.g., “I had this green stuff oozing out of my….”) And, doesn’t it just make your day when your coworker tells you that he or she is nauseous?
Let’s face it. What can I possibly do for you if you have a stomach ache? I’m not a physician — go to a doctor if you have a medical problem. More importantly, why are you telling me this? You might want sympathy, but all you are doing is dragging me down and reinforcing your own suffering. Talking about pain and discomfort will only bring you more of the same — and encourage those around you to look for the exits.
When it comes to complaints about illness, the principle of escalation usually rears its ugly head. Here’s how it works. You tell your friend about the agony you went through with the flu. Your friend interrupts and says, “You think you had it bad. When I had the flu, I had a 104 degree fever and had to be rushed to the hospital. I almost died….” Or, tell someone that your back or foot hurts — and count how many seconds it takes for that person to switch the conversation to his or her own back pain or aching feet. Complainers love to play this game; their pain is always worse than yours.
Another favorite complaint area is the weather. It starts to rain and people say, “What a lousy, miserable day.” Why does some moisture from the heavens make it a lousy day? When someone makes that remark to me, I respond, “It’s wet out — but it’s a great day!” By associating “rain” with “lousy day,” you are programming yourself in a negative way. Furthermore, your complaints about the weather will not change the conditions. It simply makes no sense to get upset about things over which you have no control — and which have no significant impact on your life.
Finally, there are the petty complaints, such as “the waiter didn’t come over to take my order for five minutes” or “John got an office with a larger window than I have.” Life presents too many difficult challenges for us to get bogged down with silly things like that. And when you gripe about insignificant things, you are also saying something about yourself. If I’m your employer, I’m wondering how you’ll react when we really have a problem worth worrying about!
Now, I’m not suggesting that you just sit back and ignore all of the problems in your life. However, rather than complaining, it’s far better to focus your attention and your energy on those steps you can take to solve, or at least lessen, your dilemma. For instance, let’s say you’re feeling a little tired lately. Instead of telling everyone how lousy you feel, make an effort to exercise more regularly, or get to bed a little earlier. And, if you feel you must inform someone else about your situation, seek out an individual who is in a position to offer some possible solutions.
To review: Complaints work against you in three ways. Firstly, no one wants to hear negative news about your illness and your problems. Secondly, complaining reinforces your own pain and discomfort. (Why keep replaying painful, negative memories?) And, thirdly, complaints, by themselves, accomplish nothing and divert you from taking constructive actions to improve your situation.
It’s been said that 90 percent of the people don’t care about your problems … and the other 10 percent are glad you have them! Seriously, though, all of us can cut down on our complaining. From now on, let’s do ourselves and others a favor and make our conversations uplifting. The people who don’t complain much (and those who speak positively) are a joy to be around. Decide to join this group — so people won’t have to cross the street when they see you coming!
Jeff Keller is a motivational speaker and author of the best-selling book, Attitude is Everything. Jeff recently released a new audio program, Success from Soup to Nuts. For more information and to sign up for Jeff’s free e-mail newsletter, visit his web site at www.attitudeiseverything.com