How to Turn Complaining into Productivity: Unleashing Growth & Success in the Workplace

We often hear that “nobody likes a complainer” but that rarely seems to stop people from venting their frustrations to their co-workers when something goes wrong at work. It makes sense why complaining is so common in the workplace: it can help relieve stress, requires minimal risk, and sometimes it just feels good. Yet while one might have good intentions for airing their complaints, it’s often unproductive and can cause a lot of dysfunctional side effects: not only does it waste time, but it can build friction within the workplace, delay more meaningful engagement, and damage the reputation of the one doing the complaining. Rather than complain about a problem, the more worthwhile approach is to find an actionable solution for the problem.

The problem with complaining on the job is that you’re bringing negative energy to the conversation without offering any resolution. Occasional complaints are fine: everyone needs to vent now and again, but too much complaining not only wastes time but can bring down your mood and leave you feeling more stressed than you were before, resulting in further negativity. This can strain workplace relationships, potentially creating “factions” at work based on common sources of frustration. When you have people picking sides like this, it hurts a team’s ability to communicate effectively, which in turn makes it harder to directly address the problem at hand.

To avoid complaining for the sake of complaining, we need to address the actual source of the complaint. When you default to complaining about something at work, you position yourself as a powerless victim of something that you cannot directly change. More often than not though, we have more agency to tackle the issue than we realize. If your problem stems from a specific person’s behavior, you can talk to them, ask them to shift their behavior, set boundaries, or any number of other specific tasks that address the problem at hand. For more company-wide problems, you should consider who has the authority to address the issue, sharing your concerns with them and highlighting how the matter is impacting your work. Companies typically are structured with HR and specific organization leadership to address issues that arise.

Of course, to successfully address these types of problems, you need to communicate effectively. When sharing your concerns, it’s important to lead with how you feel: when you share your feelings, it feels less like complaining and more like you’re having a heart-to-heart, which promotes empathy and compassion. Complaining about something often just leads to frustration, but when you frame the problem around how it is impacting you, how you are feeling, and your desire to find a solution, it makes it easier to understand where you’re coming from and makes people more willing to work with you to address the problem.

There’s likely never going to be a shortage of things to complain about in the workplace, but when we approach the issue more proactively, we can avoid the valueless negativity and instead find meaningful solutions to our problems. By recognizing our potential to elicit positive change and reaching out to those who have a say in the matter, we can turn complaints into productive action, moving past the grumbling and tip-toeing around issues to create a more positive working environment. It might not be as easy venting about the topic to your co-workers, but the end result will be better for everyone involved.

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