As I walked back to my office at lunchtime today, a group of lawyers walked separately, but along side of me. During our jaunt I could hear them talking with animated voices and a familiar tone. I perked my ears for a closer listen and soon discovered that I had tuned in to a world class complaining session. These young professionals complained about a host of issues: a partner who took the biggest office for himself, lame colleagues, feeling overworked and underappreciated. As a fly on the wall, it was a curious encounter that left me wondering:
What impact does complaining have on a career?
Many of you reading this article may have a knee-jerk opinion when it comes to answering this question. But is there something of value we can take from complaining? Can it ever be good for a career? Let’s take a closer look.
So What is Complaining?
At its root, complaining is the projection of negative emotions about something or someone, the most common emotions being frustration, anger, sadness, jealously…and fear.
How Complaining Will Hurt Your Career.
Everyone complains about something at some point for some reason. It’s human nature and it is typically brushed off in the professional world when encountered in small doses. But those who are incessant complainers…or close to that status…can create long-term damage to their careers. How? The complaining and negativity creates a more negative attitude in the workplace, it can impact work quality and compromise relationships with colleagues. People don’t like being around complainers. They regard them as unpleasant, malcontented and downers. They can be also viewed as snarky or untrustworthy – all qualities which can greatly impact a professional’s reputation. In addition, there are other risks associated with workplace complaining: complaining about individuals, particularly higher-ups can compromise job security and advancement if those higher-ups discover that you are talking smack about them. Because of these issues, complainers don’t enjoy the best of reputations, they are frequently passed over for promotions, don’t receive raises as frequently as others and aren’t given the choice assignments in today’s market. Going backwards or at best…nowhere.
Manage Your Complaints For Career Good.
When harnessed and managed properly, a professional’s grievances can serve as a springboard to greater self-awareness, professional development and career advancement. By slowing down, being more mindful and processing negative feelings first, you can identify the core of what’s bothering you at work and develop better problem solving and communication skills to fix it. You can also increase the probability of getting what you want in the workplace – whether it’s a promotion, fairer treatment, appreciation, flex hours, a new job…you name it. But doing it in a way that is constructive instead of grating, whiny or demanding. So the next time something is irking you and prompting the urge to complain…Stop. Think about why you’re bothered. Does this reflect a bigger issue you have with your employer or colleagues? If so, what it is and how can you create steps to address it? If you’re not willing to address it, why not? If it’s just a nit, how will you move past it so it doesn’t fester? Do you need to talk to someone for help or to just feel better? If so, who is the best person with whom to speak? This methodical approach may seem at bit Dr. Freud, but it works. So I encourage you give it a try.
In addition to the above pluses, complaining can help to blow off steam through venting, and can provide a healthy release. But it is critical to avoid complaining at work or with work colleagues (unless it’s someone with whom you are close and trust implicitly). Instead, bend the ear of your spouse, partner, friend, coach or mental health expert so that you maintain a safer environment without the career compromising consequences. If you find yourself complaining about the same things over and over, it’s no longer about blowing off a little steam. You’ve got bigger problems that are leading you to the career compromising side of the spectrum and they need to be addressed.
There are many negatives and career downsides to complaining. But there can be some upside too. When properly managed, sometimes it can lead us to a more self aware and communicative direction that allows us to actually solve our problems rather than continuously gripe about them. Sometimes it empowers us to ask for what we want rather than feel helpless. Sometimes it prompts us to leave a bad work situation. And sometimes it provides us with a small release in this pressure cooker profession we all live in. The key is to recognize what sparks the grievance and use your best judgment to determine the most productive steps forward. It’s not easy, I know. But if you can give it your best shot, you may just be able to spin this type of negativity into career gold.