One of the fun times I have ever enjoyed as a staffer was sitting around complaining about how lousy the management was at making decisions. I use to think of it as comrades getting together to laugh and joke about leadership. Then one day I woke up with a realisation that as complainers we were making ourselves miserable by reliving a horrible situation that in most cases would never get repaired because bad leaders, to my surprise, only care about one thing, themselves.
Over the past year, it feels effortless to fall back into the ongoing rotation of complaining. Often it goes on for so long that you fall into a routine, and it becomes a part of your life. Over time I have found myself sitting around over drinking and complaining with colleagues, or when alone, looking in a mirror while brushing my teeth. I can hear that voice complaining in my head about one thing or another. Complaints have a way of slipping in when we aren't even thinking about anything. Here are a few examples of how it slides into our mindset:
When thinking of going for a walk, you step outside and it's cold and starting to rain.
You plan a trip to your local grocery store to pick up something you have been craving for a while, but when you get there, it's out of stock.
You are waiting on a special call from a friend, the phone rings and you run to pick it up and immediately realise that it's a telemarketer trying to convince you that you need auto insurance even though you don't have a car.
When you step on a scale to check your weight when you congratulate yourself on eating healthy foods and exercising to be shocked when the scale yells, "Hello Fatty," at you before you can jump off of it. Bloody hell is what usually escapes my lips.
During COVID, check-ins and wearing a mask is mandatory, but often I complain that it's too hot, or makes my nose drip, or I can't identify people when they are wearing dark glasses and a hat pulled down low. Often, they say hello and scare my lunch out of me. It's a necessary evil.
COVID Lockdowns remind me of a surprise birthday party or celebration where everyone yells, "Lockdown starts tonight at 8p, get all your errands done now." The hard part is when you only have a three-hour window. It takes that long to get my makeup on so I won't scare any strangers on the streets.
So how does complaining help us? Complaining has a way of making us feel better because we use it as a coping mechanism to help us deal with unpleasant and unwanted circumstances. However, it doesn't help us at all. Complaining has a way of taking us away from problem solving or considering other options. In all honesty, it's not easy to stop, but it is nothing more than a habit and new, positive habits can be created.
When I worked as a leader and/or manager I created a time for my staff members to complain or express their opinions face-to-face with me. I called it tea with BMW, not the car dealership but with me. One or two mornings or afternoons per week would be reserved for staff members to schedule a time to chat or take a 15 to 30 minutes walk together out of the building. Initially team members were hesitant, but after the word got out that it was a great opportunity, everyone jumped on board, except for a few negative team members that ended up leaving. Tea with BMW had only one requirement, you had to come to the table with potential solutions and a willingness to work through issues. I am pleased to say that it worked very well. It can even work in relationships too. It allows both parties to enter a neutral environment without fear where honesty can be appreciated.
Just a warning, reducing, or monitoring one's complaining is an ongoing process. It has a way of slipping in through an open window or a back door. I have promised myself to keep working at it and giving it my full attention. The key is not to punish yourself if you fall or forget, you simply get up and restart, learning from the lessons received.
Silencing our inner complaining voice takes time. Sometimes that inner voice never stops talking. A fun game that I have adopted is associating complaining to a bit of pain to remind me to stop and think before speaking. This can be done by wearing a rubber band on the wrist and snapping it whenever that voice is trying to complain about something that we have no control over. Biting my tongue also helps because it's quite difficult to talk when my teeth are restraining my tongue while I am thinking. It helps me to become aware of all situations.
Make no mistake, some complaining is good when done correctly. I have learned to ask myself the purpose of my complaint. Most of my friends and colleagues that know me well are aware of my lack of patience for businesses that lack great marketing. Many will tell you that smoke comes out of my ears whenever there is bad customer service or lying. Nothing angers me more than when someone lies or tries to deceive me as opposed to being truthful. Lessons in life have taught me to take the following steps towards effectively complaining:
Stay calm, positive, and clear before opening my mouth to speak.
Ask myself, what is the reason for my complaint.
Be aware and assess the overall situation.
Look for solutions - What can I do to solve or change what has happened.
Be an active listener, detecting the difference between truth and bullshit.
Develop a pro-active attitude and complain constructively.
Life has taught me to decrease if not eliminate my complaining of things that I can't control. I have no control over the weather when I want to go for a walk. Instead, just do it and enjoy the adventure. I have my favourite umbrella and rain boots and a great story to listen to while strolling. In terms of lockdowns, we have no control over it, and I truly believe that it's for the best at keeping us all healthy and protected from those unwilling to protect others by spreading the virus.
Moving forward, every lockdown will be greeted with a raised glass of wine or a Chrysanthemum cocktail as I practice my French and shout, à votre santé. Cheers!