Almost everyone knows a chronic complainer: that person who complains about something insignificant but overlooks every positive aspect of their life. Usually, you don’t always disagree with what they’re complaining about; you’re more bothered by the way they’re complaining: incessantly, ineffectively, and insufferably. And many Athletic Trainers and AT students are definitely guilty of being chronic complainers!
“There is some disagreement among researchers regarding whether complaining is good or bad. I lean toward the side that, if done strategically and in moderation, complaining can be beneficial,” explains Robin Kowalski, Ph.D., psychologist at Clemson University who studies aversive interpersonal behavior such as complaining.
Research indicates that while complaining can lead to social exclusion and rumination when done well (read: with a specific hope or goal in mind), it can also contribute to greater happiness.
“Our research has shown that, when people complain, they may experience temporary increases in negative affect as they reflect on their dissatisfaction, but after a short period of time, they may actually experience more positive affect,” Kowalski explains. The positive effects arise from releasing pent-up frustration, anger, and other negative emotions.
6 Ways to Become a Better Complainer
Next time you feel like venting to the next person who will listen, remember these six pointers to complain less frequently and more productively.
1. Swap Gripes for Gratitude
By refocusing your thoughts on the positive elements of your life, you’ll start to feel a little lighter and stop feeling so burdened by your complaints. “On top of expressing gratitude, you can practice forgiveness, or even practice a random act of kindness,” Kowalski explains. “Both change your state from negative to positive.”
When a complaint bubbles up, take a moment to do something positive: Make someone feel appreciated, get a coffee for a coworker, or makeup with that friend you fell out with a while back.
2. Write Complaints Down
“Journaling is a great strategy I recommend to chronic complainers,” Kowalski adds. “They can journal about the things with which they are dissatisfied, as opposed to always expressing them to others.” Writing down your complaints may help you understand the issue more clearly.
3. Track daily complaints
First, you must become aware of how much complaining you’re doing. Kowalski has seen other people use the bracelet method created by author and speaker Will Bowen. “The idea is that you wear the bracelet on your wrist, and if you complain, you must switch it to the other wrist,” Kowalski states. “The goal is to be able to go 21 days without complaining.”
In the absence of Bowen’s purple bracelet or a loose rubber band to wear on your wrist, keep a running tally on a sticky note or designate a “complaint jar” and drop a coin in each time you find yourself complaining. In many cases, just observing how much you engage in the behavior is enough to inspire you. You can make it a goal to complain fewer times each day or week from that point on.
4. Choose Your Audience Wisely
Next time you’re about to vent, think about who will hear you out. Don’t burden any one person in your social circle; instead, assemble a list of people who you trust and vent among them as needed.
Don’t forget: Moderation is key. The next time you’re on the phone with a friend, spend five minutes complaining, then five minutes sharing something good that has happened to you recently. Better yet, give your friend your full attention for five minutes. Friends make us happier and healthier, so treat them well!
5. Make a “Complaint Sandwich”
You may want to consider using the complaint sandwich technique recommended by psychologist Guy Winch, Ph.D. This innovative approach involves dropping your complaint in between two positive statements. Negative feedback should not be sugar-coated or avoided – instead, it should be delivered in a way that makes the person you’re speaking with less defensive and more receptive.
6. Have an intention and stick with it
How many times have you found yourself complaining for no good reason? Whether you were filling an awkward silence or simply didn’t know what to say next, complaining for no reason doesn’t help, and often leaves us feeling worse than before.
As soon as you feel a complaint on the tip of your tongue, ask yourself, “What will I gain if I share this”? If sharing your complaint could lead to some relief, for instance, it may be worth it to share. You may want to keep it to yourself if it will only cause hostility or frustration.