The Value of Complaining

There are times in your life when, instead of complaining, you do something about your complaints. Rita Dove

Phyllis Korkki has an interesting article in the Jobs section of the New York Times today about complexity of complaining in a group environment. Research indicates that there is some value in an environment that tolerates the appropriate level of complaining.

“The work settings with the highest morale and the greatest collegiality are those in which “people can feel free to respectfully complain,” says Robin Kowalski, a psychology professor at Clemson University in South Carolina. When people air their complaints, they can receive validation that a problem is real, and move closer to a solution.”

There are further implications in the research for coaches and teams.  A coach may be tempted to simply dismiss complaints and complainers on the team,  but doing so might lead the coach to miss something serious going on or allow a true issue to undermine the success of our teams.

“But incessant complaining could also signal a truly serious problem in the workplace, she adds, which is why managers must be able to distinguish between authentic and inauthentic complaints. Not resolving an authentic complaint could lead to workplace incivility, lower productivity, higher absenteeism and possibly even legal action, she says.”

And, for athletes on a team, or for us coaches as members of a bigger community, the article reminds of the importance of going directly to the person with the power to address  or solve the problem. Otherwise, each of us is just fomenting unrest in our environment without really producing any measurable gains, and perhaps instead leading the team in the wrong direction with ramifications for ourselves, as well as the entire group.

What is the most effective way to complain, provided you don’t just enjoy it for its own sake? Make sure to deliver your complaint to the person who can actually do something about it, Professor Kowalski says. Complaining to colleagues about your pay is unproductive: your boss needs to hear your case.

“Complaining,” she says, “has to be strategic, and it has to be done in moderation, in order to have positive outcomes.”

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