by Miki Kashtan
Managers, at all levels, often tell me how little patience they have when they hear complaints from the people they supervise, how their disempowered nature drags them down. Those who get pegged as repeat complainers are often avoided by their coworkers.
Outside the workplace, I also hear the echo of all the times I’ve heard parents tell their children to stop complaining, often with an irritated tone of voice. There’s something about complaining that most of us find very unappealing to be around – unless, of course, we ourselves participate in that workplace “ritual” that, for so many, is the only way to get through the day. Even then, when asked, we all know that our complaining arises from a sense of powerlessness, of having little faith that anything will ever change. Somehow, it serves as an outlet, and some subtle agreement exists about when and how to start and stop.
I know that even when a friend appears to me to be complaining I find it challenging, even, maybe especially, if I love the person. One of my most significant friendships took almost three years to bloom because I kept some distance in my heart. I couldn’t bear to see her act in ways that seemed so powerless to me. Then, one day, almost by some miracle, a window opened, I saw her power, and a new world of friendship opened up for us. What’s most amazing is that since then I have never heard her complain any more, though I am sure she didn’t change her ways of speaking so much all at once. Rather, I think that what changed was between us, not in her. We co-created a new dynamic of engaging with challenges in her life. With both of us connected to and seeing her power, we found ways of responding that were novel, connected, and focused on moving towards what she wanted instead of what was happening that she didn’t like.