Complaining 101 – How to Stay Exactly Where you are

Have you noticed how warm it’s been lately? Well, I live in Northern California and here it has been unseasonably warm for Winter. It’s terrible. I wish we had a real Winter here. That’s why I moved away from Southern California and now it’s the same—all year long, just one season–sometimes very hot, sometimes less hot. And now we’re in a major drought which is only partly because we have ruined our environment and our seasons are all messed up. The other reason is because we have not learned to use the water resources we have well. We’ve been naïve and a little stupid. So now we have a problem. I’m sure had my politician been elected we wouldn’t have this problem. But don’t get me started. I’m just one voter. I can’t make a difference.

Shall I go on? No? How are you feeling reading my blog? I’m feeling kind of crummy writing it. But I wanted to illustrate this most useless form of communication – the complaint. Here’s how I define complaining:

“stating what is so and how bad it is; then going on and on about how we can never change it and it’s probably just going to get worse and it is somebody else’s fault, we didn’t create it, and we can’t change it.”

I call this “arguing for our limitations” and we are brilliant at it. Why do we do it? Maybe it’s because we really do feel powerless to change it. Maybe we feel like by complaining we are doing something.

But what is the effect of complaining?

1. Energetically it brings us down and makes it less likely that we will do anything about it.

2. It brings down everybody around us (and if you are really good at it, it convinces them that nothing can be done) so that any chance at getting help to make a change is gone. In the end, people who don’t like complaining will avoid you and you will end up with friends who are as fixated on problems as you are.

3. Your brain listens to the way you talk. As Henry Ford said, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

So what to do? No matter how bad a situation is, you don’t have to have an answer or come up with an answer on your own. To move yourself out of this nonproductive mindset, just start asking questions. Ask open-ended, curious questions (as opposed to closed, non-curious, such as “why me?” or “who’s to blame?”) Ask questions like these:

• What can we do to change this?
• How can we improve it?
• Who is the best person to help us out?
• What can I do right now to make this a little better?
• What is one small thing I could change right now?
• What other resources do we have to deal with this?
• What have we not thought of?

Back to your brain and how it listens to what you say. When you complain, you make brilliant arguments that things should stay the way they are; in fact, how could they not? So your brain looks for ways to keep it as it is – even though you claim not to like it.

But when you ask questions, your brain starts to look for answers. Your brain is very powerful. Give it a question and it will get to work on solutions. Other reasons to ask questions? It makes you feel better and more powerful. If you ask them out loud, you may also get help from other people.

A couple tips on asking questions:

• As stated above, ask open-ended questions to really problem-solve (this is opposed to a closed-ended question which is a yes or no question) – examples of open-ended questions are listed above;
• Ask forward-moving, problem-solving questions; don’t ask “how did it get like this?” or “who’s to blame?”
• Ask questions of others to help you brainstorm;
• When asking questions of others, it can help you to ask people outside your company, department or family to help get to a different way of thinking

What can I do about the weather? Nothing. What can I do about where I live? I can move to a place that has seasons I like. What can I do about environmental issues? I can work on them; I can conserve water; I can recycle. What can I do when the weather is warmer than I think it should be? I can wear shorts and go outside for a walk.

I’m feeling better already.







About the Author

Cami McLaren

Cami McLaren

is the owner of McLaren Coaching. She has been coaching attorneys and management since early 2008. She wrote a book, published by the American Bar Association, "Coaching for Attorneys: Improving Productivity and Achieving Balance." She coaches attorneys and managers one-on-one, and provides in-house training designed to improve productivity and bring accountability to the organization.

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