The Message in Misery
Perhaps we're seeing complaints in a new light or at a new level with this recession but I've seen this "out-martyring" routine many times before. I remember one notable example that I overheard during a bus ride in Chicago in the late 90s -- one guy said proudly that he had a heart attack at 45, the other guy scoffed and said that's when he had his second heart attack. He had his first at 42.
As a communicator, though, I'm looking for some deeper meaning in our complaints. After all, complaining is a form of communication and, like any exchange, we need to know our audience. Here's my attempt at categorizing complainers:
- Attention Seekers. This may be the largest category of complainers -- those who may have some unfulfilled emotional need for attention. If there's an unmet need, it might be worth exploring what caused the void, why it may not be getting filled and what it might take to make a permanent (or at least a long-lived) repair.
- Terminally Annoying. My sense is that there are some people that are just hard-wired to whine. They have to gain some insight, recognize the behavior and devise some tactics to overcome the impulse. Otherwise, we have to cope with it or tune it out.
- Clinically Complicated. Some complainers would be better categorized as patients with neuroses. Guiding them toward some medical or psychological intervention might be indicated.
- Pressure Cookers. It can be a scary situation to witness a usually even-keeled person erupting into a complaining rant. It's unexpected, it's out of character. These complainers lack a relief valve that can episodically vent some steam. They need to understand that providing feedback in a timely manner will not diminish their likability and will, in fact, create better relationships.
- Crowd Followers. Due to a lack of confidence or an eagerness to fit in and be accepted, some people will take the lead of others and join in on the complaining. They need to think more about which crowd they want to be aligned.
- Signal Senders. In my experience, there is an under-appreciated group that may be making actual attempts to communicate an issue or send an alert but the message is interpreted as a complaint. Rather than brushing it off, it may be worth investigating their motivation or intent.
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