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.
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.