How to Combat the Negative Power of Complaining


Whining. Carping. Bellyaching. Kvetching. Whatever you call it, we've all done it, and we've all been around others who have done it. Sometimes it is even good to do it. However, when complaining becomes unproductive, counterproductive, or habitual, it becomes a problem that must be addressed. That's because complaining can take a toll on us physically and mentally, and it can create toxic relationships both in our professional and private lives. Let's take a closer look at the negative power of complaining and steps we can take to avoid it or deal with it effectively.

Too Much Complaining Is Bad for Your Health

Studies have shown that constant complaining is bad for your physical health and mental makeup. In fact, a study from Stanford University shows that repetitive acts of complaining will cause neurons in your brain to reconfigure themselves to make it easier for your brain to produce and process negative thoughts. This causes neurons to move away from the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for critical thinking and intelligence, thereby making it smaller. In addition, negative thinking causes your body to release more cortisol, which is a stress hormone that can have deleterious effects on your mind and body in many different ways.

Complaining Can Ruin Our Relationships

Being a Debbie or Donnie Downer isn't good for you, and it also tends to be bad for those around you. Just being around constantly pessimistic people can cause our cortisol levels to rise because our minds are predisposed to try to empathize with and similarly feel what others are experiencing at a given moment. If you've ever seen or experienced a herd mentality in action, you understand how this works. Therefore, complaining is often contagious, and it can create feelings of despondency, hopelessness, and frustration in others.

Shared victimhood and grievance mongering can become the primary foundation of unhealthy relationships in our lives. At work, this can lead to a loss of productivity, tensions among coworkers, and, in worst-case scenarios, paralysis within an organization. In our private lives, constant griping can cause dissatisfaction and resentment in those trying to help, especially if they perceive that the complainer isn't doing anything to effectively address his or her issues. Furthermore, any relationship that is based on shared negativity is likely to keep the participants trapped in a cycle of pessimism because those engaged in the relationship may see continuing on this path as necessary for maintaining status within the relationship.

How to Effectively Combat Complaining

Here are some tips for dealing with chronic negativity in your life:

  • Be conscious of your own complaining. Although we can condition our brains to think negatively, we can also rewire our brains to think positively by making an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Be grateful. When we count our many blessings, it helps us put our problems in perspective. If we are thankful for others, letting them know the reasons that we are grateful for them can lift their spirits and diminish negativity. 
  • Be empathetic with others. The natural tendency in dealing with habitual complainers may be to try to put a positive spin on situations or to offer them advice in how to effectively deal with their issues. However, sometimes the best solution is just patiently showing empathy. By showing genuine concern, you acknowledge the feelings of others, which is oftentimes what they want most. This will likely nip some of the complaining in the bud while you keep yourself in a positive mindset. 
  • Be prepared to steer conversations in a positive direction. Keep cheery topics in mind, turn discourse in an optimistic direction, and look for solutions to problems rather than just complain about them. Reinforce positive discussions by giving those more of your attention than the complaints. 
  • Take care of your body. Eating right, sleeping well, and getting enough exercise will keep you fit. This will help keep your cortisol levels low and better prepare you to ward off others' negativity.

People with affirmative outlooks on life are generally healthier, more successful, and well liked. Learn to break the cycle of complaining and cynicism in your personal and professional relationships. Think positively; doing so will help others think positively as well.

Is your company culture pessimistic or even toxic? We can help you shift your company culture in a positive direction with our unique organizational leadership and organizational training programs. Contact us today to learn more about our programs or get a free quote.