Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Art of the Complaint

Okay, judging by the traffic to yesterday’s article I’m a little concerned I’m the only person excited about the self-improvement theme on the blog (we’ll continue to do political and entertainment themed articles in the morning, and if all of these fail hard we’ll skip this sort of topic all-together in the future), but I’m going to follow-through at least through the week in hopes that I find something that resonates, and the next topic I want to get to is the Art of the Complaint.

We spend most of our lives complaining.  It’s kind of stunning how often we do it, even if we’re the most positive of people.  Try just keeping a checkmark sometime of every time during a week that you naturally started to complain during a conversation, and you’ll be shocked how much commiserating dominates your daily life.

Complaining is of course a necessary part of existence.  It’s really the only way that we can get across our dissatisfaction about something, and it’s cathartic.  It’s better to keep those feelings out in the open then to bottle them in, building resentment.  This is the truth.

The problem, though, is when the complaining you are doing is holding you back or serving as a proxy for making actual progress in your life.  It’s worth noticing now the difference between different types of complaints.  There is complaining that you do to try and improve a situation.  This is when you are complaining to the actual person, and as a whole, I find this to be most beneficial if you handle it well. Most of the people who read this article are probably adults, so you all know the difference between when you are being constructive and when you are being insulting.  If you have trouble with the latter, try keeping your opinions to yourself until you have formulated the best way to handle the situation, and that’s probably the best advice I can give (even though it’s clichéd, it works).

The other type of complaining, though, is far more destructive, because by-and-large you are doing it to people who either have no control or very indirect control over what you are complaining about.  This is also important because, outside of therapy (and lord knows I am an advocate for people to give therapy a shot if they have problems that they cannot seem to solve on their own), we don’t have a lot of people that we can talk to about the difficulties in our lives and again, keeping emotions buried deep down is not a good idea.

There’s a difference between complaining with a purpose and complaining just for the sake of it though, and I am going to be honest here:  the latter is a giant waste of both yours and the listener’s time.  Complaining with a purpose is setting out a specific problem and trying to get some sort of advice on how you’re handling it, whereas complaining just to complain is stating a problem but not being willing to see any other perspectives other than your own.

Let's say you're complaining about how you can never lose any weight, a perfectly legitimate complaint.  Someone who is complaining with a purpose will listen and try to parcel through diet tips, exercise tips, and nutrition tips to get something new they could try to address their problem.  Someone who is complaining for the sake of it will simply listen and dismiss, saying "tried that once, didn't work."  These people want a magic wand to change their lives, and this is something no one has.

As a listener, I encourage you to call out the complainers for the sake of it because that’s the only way they’ll learn to make a positive change in their lives.  If someone is consistently coming to you with the same problem and they ignore your advice, I suggest you actually tell them that, particularly if you’ve grown tired of hearing about it.  I had a friend who I persistently came to with the same problem, and she finally pointed out that I clearly only wanted to find a solution the way I wanted to, not the way that other people recommended (or, quite frankly, was realistic).  It was an eye-opening experience and I think something to always consider if you consistently have an issue but never take anyone’s advice.

There are topics that are difficult to broach; something like complaining “why am I still single?” is a good example.  In this case, someone may be doing everything that they can think of, but you cannot give them any reasons.  As a listener who wants to help, there’s nothing worse than having to say, “I just don’t know,”…so don’t.  Try googling the question if you have no other options with your friend, and seeing what comes up-I guarantee there is almost no general advice question that you can ask that doesn’t have a solution that this person hasn’t tried yet.  If nothing else, this will not only help their issue, but also help them feel better about themselves (call it a placebo effect, but doing something to fix a problem, even if it doesn’t eventually help, makes you feel better about it until you do ultimately solve the problem).

Those are my thoughts for today on complaining.  Do you find yourself frequently complaining about a specific topic over and over again?  Do you see yourself in the title of “complainer for the sake of it?”  Share in the comments your successes (or failures) when it comes to trying to be a more productive complainer.

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