How to Stop Complaining and Blaming at Work
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.
— Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer
By John Millen
Most of the large companies I work with were undergoing tremendous change even before the start of this pandemic.
While planning for a recent workshop, a client told me there had been a fair amount of complaining about company changes and hoped that I could bring some perspective.
Reviewing my deck that night, I decided to create a slide that said:
Of course, in the morning those leaders, like you, thought I meant the increasingly popular CBD, Cannabidiol, the marijuana/hemp derivative which is said to create a sense of calm and well-being.
My prescription is different, but can also give you a sense of calm and well-being. My full slide read:
These three behaviors, complaining, blaming and defensiveness, are what we revert to when we are under stress.
When we feel threatened by changes in our business or personal lives, we often take solace in verbalizing our misery: we complain about the changes, we blame other people, we defend ourselves and our egos.
As leaders, we must avoid CBD at all costs. For leaders today, our number one job is to lead people through constant change. Some researchers posit that the pace of change today is the slowest we will see in our lives.
All of these CBD behaviors, while maybe providing momentary ego relief, have zero positive effects. In fact, they often have negative effects: dragging other people down; increasing the negativity in your workplace; or even being counterproductive, making the effects of change worse.
And this doesn’t only happen in the workplace. People carry convenience-sized CBD with them wherever they go.
In some companies, teams spend their time fighting one another, wasting time and energy, instead of fighting their competitors.
For some people, complaining is a way of life, blaming others in good times and bad. For most of us, we can fall into this pattern under stress, sometimes not realizing where we are.
It’s critical for leaders to be positive and proactive during change. Here are a few tips for dealing with CBD in yourself and others:
1. Change your perspective
Our response to change in the workplace often stems from the fear of loss. Through our evolution as human beings, we have been hard-wired to protect our resources. We view work as a zero-sum game: any change at work means I might lose out and someone else will get my stuff.
That’s part of why, at work, we hear people say, “I hate change!”
In my workshops, I’ll ask leaders to move beyond this emotional reaction by considering the fact that we accept and even encourage change in our personal lives: we marry, we have children, we move to bigger houses…and change continues.
2. Control your response
We don’t have control over events but we can control our responses. No one can make you angry — only you can decide your response to something others do or say. If you need reinforcement on this point write down the passage of the Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer at the start of this post.
3. Reframe as a problem solver
Consistent with controlling your response is reframing yourself to be a problem solver. Taking action on what you can solve will give you a sense of control, mastery over your own destiny. Start with small wins. It will not only help you but those around you as they see a proactive problem solver at work. If you can’t solve a problem, let it go. It’s not yours to worry about.
4. Limit your complaining
I’ve worked with a woman sales leader who uses her “five-minute rule.” She allows her team to complain as much as they want, let it loose — for five minutes. After that, accept where you are and move on.
5. Get it out of your system
Sometimes five minutes is not enough. You can reduce your anger, anxiety and other emotions by releasing them from your mind and body. Exercise, meditation and mindfulness are great practices to find your balance.
To release a specific issue, consider writing it down. Write an angry email that vents all of your true feelings — without adding a name. Do not send this email!
Keeping a journal or writing lists of concerns over time might allow you to see a pattern of your persistent concerns.
6. Let it go
Easier said than done, but we benefit from just letting things go. Most changes in our lives are not as bad or as good as we see them. In the end, most will be a blip on the radar.
In work and life, change is inevitable. Your response is not. Choose to be proactive. Stay away from CBD!