Complaining at work … an effective strategy?

Let’s face it, in our pantheon of complaints, our job holds a special place…  with its gods (we love to take issue with our boss and our clients) and its cults (around the coffee machine or after a meeting.)
Yet usually when we complain it is because we have “good reasons”. It’s true; we complain because we have a need that is not satisfied. This need is important enough to generate frustration and give rise to anger or annoyance, which are the source of our “bitching”.


Although our need is real and often justified, we use moaning as a strategy – one that cannot bear fruit. This is one of the greatest lessons of the challenge “I quit complaining”.

To understand what I mean, put yourself in the shoes of the person who is on the receiving end of this kind of complaining.

Imagine that one of your relatives or co-workers came to you to discuss a problem and used one of these 3 recognizable aspects of complaining :

  • A bitter tone of voice – (Tone)
  • Blaming – (Positioning)
  • Exaggerating – (Accuracy)

For example, the person says,

“Look, I’m fed up. I’m telling you for the twentieth time that’s not the way to do it…  Why don’t you pay attention? We’re way behind and management is going to kill us! I can’t always be looking over your shoulder… I have more important things to do…”

How do you feel after this exchange? What is your automatic reaction?

When someone feels attacked, they generally do not want to cooperate or get involved with problem-solving; on the contrary, they usually have two reactions (or a sophisticated mix of both):

  • They will either leave (or ignore you)
  • Or they will defend themselves and attack in return

The fact is that we do not like being attacked and it stimulates our protective and/or defensive mechanisms.

To protect ourselves we try to create a distance  – create a filter –  between the ‘aggressor’ and ourselves. If we can, we will leave the room (sometimes slamming the door, other times more discreetly) because frankly, we try to avoid this kind of conversation. If it is not appropriate (or possible) to leave the room we create a mental distance between the words of the complainer and ourselves. Maybe in our head, we will say something like “There he goes again / he sure is fired up, but he’ll get over it.” So although we understand, we do not listen!

Although the person who feels hard done by tries to get us to care about their grievances (using a bitter tone, making us feel guilty and exaggerating reality)… we do not like to feel guilty and we disengage.

Sometimes we defend ourselves by attacking in return – accusing the other person and declaring that he is wrong and we are right (and that’s easy since he is probably exaggerating). We say “It’s not true… I don’t agree… you don’t realize… you don’t understand.” We then find ourselves in a battle of “who’s wrong and who’s right” and things quickly become heated because no one wants to lose that battle! If we are temperamentally disinclined to engage directly, then we often do it indirectly, for example by making a complaint to the Human Resources Department about how we’ve been spoken to.

Sometimes when we complain we are unconsciously hoping to create an ‘electric shock’. We think that by allowing our annoyance to show in our voice, demonstrating (or insinuating) that it is the other person’s fault, and by exaggerating a bit (or a lot) they will come to understand that they must change or that they need to do something to solve our problem.

Yet, however, many times this happens, we never seem to realize that someone who is wrong-footed has no desire to cooperate. He does not want to consider our words or our needs; we hoped to rally him to our cause but instead, he will try to get away from us or, worse still, attack us.

I invite you to re-read that last part and think of the ‘life lesson’ that I am wanting to share because it is critical. By moaning and complaining, we are trying to satisfy a real need but we are using a strategy that doesn’t work and ends up creating the opposite effect: we would like to create empathy for our problem but all we do is create annoyance or antagonism.


“Christine Lewicki is a Bestselling Author, Speaker & Coach. She is committed to helping people quit complaining and become entrepreneurs of their lives. You can download your FREE “I quit complaining” starter kit on her blog and visit her Facebook page for inspirational articles and quotes to reveal the best version of yourself each day!

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