What effect does overexposure to complainers have on you?
Can exposure to too much complaining adversely affect your brain?
Will listening to someone complain over time alter your attitude and make you negative as well?
According to an Inc. com article by Minda Zetlin, “Listening to Complainers Is Bad for Your Brain,” the answer is likely, “Yes.”
According to the article, “Research shows that exposure to 30 minutes or more of negativity – including viewing such material on TV – actually peels away neurons in the brain’s hippocampus.”
That is the area of the brain responsible for regulating emotions, and it is especially important for long-term memory. Essentially, when you listen to negativity, it is impacting your emotions and your memory.
The research comes from a book by Trevor Blake—Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and in Life.
If you have ever sat through a three-hour business meeting with nothing but complaints and whining, you’d probably agree. Whiners and complainers are real downers. They waste time hashing over problems without a solution in sight.
While personal experience might validate the research, a closer look at what some consider complaining can shed new light on the subject.
Many people mistake constructive feedback for complaining.
What is complaining?
Complainers rarely have a solution or even a positive suggestion to solve a problem. They will discuss a situation or a perceived transgression ad nauseum every chance they get. When they turn the focus on another person’s work habits, presentation style, or leadership abilities, they have crossed the line.
Complaining is draining.
What is constructive feedback?
On the other hand, constructive feedback is worth listening to. How many times have you suffered through an employee or co-worker’s boring PowerPoint presentation? Everyone claps at the end, but no one is brave enough to tell him it was bad and how to fix it.
Maybe you have approached him after a particularly bad presentation with some helpful hints, and received a less than enthusiastic response.
He thinks you are just complaining. What he does not realize is that you are offering constructive feedback in an effort to prevent his future embarrassment.
Constructive feedback is valuable. What makes it constructive feedback is the intent. (Click to Tweet)
The key is to separate the complaints from the constructive feedback.
Here is a simple four-step process to deal with this issue.
1. Listen First
The article cites strategies to mentally block out the complainers with a protective mental “shield” that separates you from the noise. Drift off to a mental desert island or wrap yourself in a protective mental cloak. In other words, stop listening. Tune the complainers out.
This tactic is a good defense against true complainers, but you could miss some valuable feedback if you automatically tune out everyone who wants to give you advice.
The key: listen first.
Process the information and take a long, honest look at yourself. If you’ve heard the same comments before, especially from several different people, it probably has merit.
Sometimes we put up the shields too fast. Sort out the complaints from honest feedback. You may find those you consider complainers are actually valuable coaches, intent on your success.
2. Steer away from complainers.
If someone is clearly a complainer as defined above, either steer the conversation in a more healthy direction – or steer away from it. Lingering will only serve to pull you down as well, and it will affect your attitude. As a leader, you must always protect your mind and your attitude.
3. Welcome constructive feedback.
Conversely, if you find someone who is willing to give you constructive feedback that is clearly offered with good intent, welcome their input.
It is not easy to hear you are falling short or making mistakes, but honest constructive feedback is golden.
It is also not easy to give constructive feedback, but as a leader, it is an essential part of your role to help your team members grow.
In Toastmasters, the Grammarian is a minor meeting role with a powerful impact. This person listens to every speaker and records the number of times they use annoying non-words like “ahs” and “ums,” and reports his findings at the end of the meeting. It is a humbling eye-opener, but those who accept the feedback become better speakers.
4. Correct the problem.
The ultimate determination of whether or not something is a complaint or constructive feedback is the outcome.
A complainer will offer no resolution. There is simply complaining and blame.
Complaints are focused on the PROBLEM – and they never get past it.
Constructive feedback, however, brings a problem to the forefront so it can be resolved. Conversations that have a problem-to-solution approach are healthy, positive, and highly motivational.
Constructive feedback is focused on the SOLUTION – and it brings success.
The easiest way to filter out complaining versus constructive feedback is to ask two simple questions.
- What is the intent?
- What will be the outcome?
If the intent is good, and the outcome is a successful resolution to a problem, by all means, LISTEN!
If the intent is to simply grovel in a problem, with no foreseeable resolution, then protect your mind and your attitude by removing yourself from the conversation.
A Free Chapter of
SAY IT NOW!
SAY IT RIGHT!
Sign up below to get your FREE chapter of the book.
Mary J. Nestor is a leadership and communications expert with extensive experience in identifying issues and helping leaders resolve them to the benefit of the company, the leader, and the employee. For more information on how Mary can help you and your organization, click here to request a free consultation.