The Worst Co-Worker Of All? Joe Complainer

Studies show that complaining to colleagues creates a large share of office stress. Two writers recently tried to abstain from sharing their woes for a whole month.

Negative attitudes are contagious ...
Negative attitudes are contagious ...
Daniela Arce Valiente

SANTIAGO DE CHILE — Thirteen years ago, when my mom was immersing herself in the Japanese alternative treatment therapy reiki, she shared with me the spiritual practice's five principles.

As I read them, I thought that applying them to my daily life would be an impossible task. Its first two principles advise not to be angry and not to worry. The others are to honor your parents, teachers and the elderly, to earn a living by honorable means, and to show gratitude for everything around you.

That was some years ago. But that time-honored advice immediately came back to me when I read about the Complaint/Restraint project by Thierry Blancpain and Pieter Pelgrims, who pledged in February to avoid complaining for a month and asked others to join them. As they later explained, the result was a happier and more positive life. To those who registered to participate in the project, they sent reminders about maintaining their pledge.

More than 1,750 people took part, though this principle could help countless others who endure the daily deluge of complaints by colleagues, friends, bosses and relatives. Because complaining is not unusual, it's insidious and particularly troublesome when it's abused by toxic people who create tensions in the workplace and reduce productivity.

A recent study by the psychology department at Germany's Friedrich Schiller University indicates that exposure to stimuli that generate strong negative emotions, or being close to toxic individuals, is stressful. Characterized as demotivators, these are the people we are told to avoid at work. An article in Forbes magazine likewise describes them as most dangerous to their colleagues' mental well-being, because negative attitudes are contagious.

Not helping, Dan — Photo: beglen

The contagion is explained "by the inability to face frustrations and accept people's differences," says Julia Vargas, a lecturer at Peru's USMP university. She says certain people "have gotten used to complaining about themselves and others to attract attention, because of their need for recognition, low self-esteem, limited emotional intelligence and low adaptability."

But not only do the rest of us suffer, so does the complainer. Vargas says it can be harmful to that person if he or she doesn't seek to resolve it. The complainer "becomes filled with frustrations and stress, as there will be difficulties he or she will not be able to resolve fully or in the short term."

Complaining, therefore, has no benefits, not even as catharsis or emotional release. Worse, it becomes a habit. So if you are a complainer, follow Vargas's guidance: "Becoming conscious of the attitude, assuming that nobody is perfect, accepting personality differences and understanding that what we don't like about someone could be because they remind us of someone else we dislike. Accept coworkers' work, both in terms of pace and quality, and try and understand people and always think positively."

Many may believe such advice is impossible to put into practice, like I did as a child when my mother told me about reiki's five principles. But consider how you could set about curbing the complaining habit for yourself. Who knows, you might even sign up for next year's Complaint/Restraint project.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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