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Ask Entrepreneur

Complaining Is Lethal for Your Productivity and Your Business

When something goes wrong, be sure to speak up just as soon as you have a solution to offer.
Complaining Is Lethal for Your Productivity and Your Business
Image credit: Westend61 | Getty Images
Entrepreneur VIP
Entrepreneur and Connector
6 min read

We all do it. In fact, research has found that during a typical conversation, we do it once a minute.

I’m not talking about saying “um” or making odd facial expressions; I’m talking about complaining. We've all heard that venting helps us release stress and move forward, but science says it's actually hurting our productivity -- which is especially dangerous for a busy entrepreneur.

Of course, if nobody ever complained about anything, they would have to be ignoring real problems, too, but there’s a catch. For complaining to be beneficial, you need to know whom to complain to and how to produce solutions to your problem. If not, you’re not only annoying those around you, but you’re also putting your relationships -- and work -- at risk.

Complaing on a daily basis is absolutely horrible for you mentally and physically, and just as bad for relationships, which all play a role in how productive you are.

Related: If You're Not Happy, Stop Complaining and Make a Change

Complaining takes many forms

We sometimes deny that we’re complaining. Instead, we say that we’re just “being honest,” “venting” or “blowing off steam.” But don’t kid yourself: Whenever you insert negative feelings into a conversation without some sort of resolution, you’re complaining. It's tempting because there is a lot about entrepreneurship to complain about -- from careless vendors to unnecessarily difficult lending policies -- but with so many demands on their time and energy, entrepreneurs have to be ruthless about what they spend it on.

There are, of course, different types of complainers. Some people are never satisfied and become chronic complainers. Others are dissatisfied about a particular situation and want to get it off their chest. They aren’t seeking resolutions; they just want validation for how they feel. Others yet complain as part of a one-upmanship game, proving their circumstances are worse than everyone else's and warrant sympathy or help.

Related: How Complaining Rewires Your Brain for Negativity

How complaining saps productivity.

If everyone complains from time to time, how's it so bad for our productivity?

First, it affects your brain. There’s a well-known -- but some argue controversial -- Stanford study that found complaining or even being complained to for more than 30 minutes can physically damage the neurons in the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain responsible for problem solving and cognitive function. Simply put, complaining doesn’t just hinder regular mental functioning; it begets even more complaining. Once you start complaining, you can’t stop. Eventually, this becomes a habit.

Complaining also affects your physical state. When you complain, you trigger the stress hormone cortisol. This important hormone helps control blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, regulate your metabolism and help with memory formulation. In other words, you hamper your body's functions and further diminish your ability to process information.

When cortisol levels are high, you become stress-reactive. As Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D., explains in Psychology Today, this “stress response ‘makes you stupid’ because it moves blood flow away from the neocortex and into your muscles, anticipating action.” Furthemore, it “also makes you egocentric as your self-preservational instincts take over, lowering your empathy and compassion.”

Increased cortisol can weaken your immune system while increasing your blood pressure, cholesterol, risk for diseases and weight gain. No wonder Psych Pedia author Steven Parton stated that complaining can “literally [be] killing you.”

Related: The Amazing Lesson of the Pope's No Complaining Sign

A strategy to avoid complaining.

To ditch that nasty complaining habit and those negative thoughts racing around in your head, you need to replace that negative habit with a positive one. It's challenging, but it’s much easier if you do the following;

  • Start practicing gratitude. The simple act of giving thanks has been found to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety while improving your mood and energy.
  • Praise others. Did a colleague go above and beyond? Dish out the compliments. Making her day will lift your spirits as well.
  • Focus on success. This is pretty straightforward: If you believe you’re going to be successful, you will be. Stop the whining and start focusing on what’s amazing in your life.
  • Let it go. Don’t live in the past; it’s done and over with. Focus on how awesome today and tomorrow can be if you put your effort there.
  • Take action. If you’re not satisfied with your current situation, do something about it. Complaining won't change a thing.
  • Develop a solution. Before you start complaining, take a breath to think about what you want to accomplish and the possible solutions to reach that outcome. For example, if an employee is always late, don’t whine about it every day to your co-founder. Sit down with the employee to figure what’s going on. If it doesn’t appear things will change, you may have to let him go. That would be an unfortunate outcome, but either way, you've addressed the problem so it's no longer weighing on you.
  • Destress and focus on the positive. Look for ways to blow off steam productively, like exercising, meditating or learning a skill that can resolve a problem.

Related: Why Entrepreneurs Who Complain Are Setting Themselves Up to Fail

Complaining is really comfortable in the moment, but it doesn't result in much good. Instead, it makes entrepreneurs slow their cognitive functions and metabolisms and increase their stress levels. To avoid the damage caused by a good rag session, look for other ways to solve the problems that trigger your complaining. By removing the root cause, the complaining will go along with it.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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