In praise of complaining

If you ever talked with anyone else in your life, you probably know what complaining sounds like. It all starts with a little detail, which then added to other little details creates a sense of saturation, until the point that people obsess over things which on the outside seem irrelevant. Except the outside, from the complainer's view, just "doesn't understand".

Complaining is giving voice to what disturbs us, and that can mean a lot of things. I'm focusing on three.

First thought: complaining means we're unhappy. And unhappiness makes us less productive because we don't truly embrace what we're doing. Which means eventually someone will not be satisfied with our work, they will let us know and that will make us unhappier. We might even complain more than before because someone hasn't been fair to us and doesn't respect our work.

Complaining will generate more negative feelings which constantly remind us that we're unhappy about something, and that shows even more in our work, which then makes someone else even less satisfied. You get the point: it's a vicious loop which constantly leads us downward until one day we say, "enough". I don't have the stats but I believe this is why so many people switch agency and creative jobs so frequently, by the way.

So complaining is a drag, as we're all aware. Or is it?

Second thought: unhappiness makes us partially more passionate. Specifically, in the way we express our feelings. I rarely see someone talk so passionately about how great that project went compared to the passion one shows about why that marketer is such a dumb bitch. Perhaps this happens because there are more failed projects than successful ones (in the way it all went exactly as was originally intended), but the point here is: unhappiness drives our passions.

Unhappiness might also make us partially more creative. Because if we're passionate about something (e.g., about making our former boss look like a douche), we'll work more fiercely towards expressing that passion. So past stories suddenly get more dramatic and extreme, to the point where everyone who is listening can only say "no way, you really did that? He really did that?". Everything becomes suddenly unbelievable and more interesting indeed. And if doing that to a story isn't creative, I don't know what is.

Third thought: complains lead to insight. If you see someone complaining, you know there's something wrong. And if there's something wrong, something must be fixed. Isn't that the whole point of having an insight? Finding that human truth to realize what must be fixed? We constantly do this about consumers, users and clients. We try to get into their heads to figure out what's wrong and how can we fix that. In the case of a complainer, they're doing everything for us. It's all there, we just have to listen and then do something about it.

I'm against complainers because I hate being one. But I must praise their ability to:

  • Focus on the problem;
  • Passionately express it;
  • Obsessively have it in the back of their heads.

What's missing here? The solution, of course. And here lies the fallacy of the complainer's logic. Focusing on the problem is important for the problem's sake and for asking the right questions, but two very important steps remain missing: insight and solution. Perhaps complainers exist so that other people can see, through their elaborate words and passionate discourses, what's really wrong with something (insight) and how to fix it (solution). It's teamwork even if we never truly realize it at the moment.

Of course I don't wish to live in a world full of complainers nor do I intend to motivate people to complain, as I realize there are many more of them than there are people focusing on the solution. Maybe those who are willing to solve problems can make the best of this unfair ratio by realizing it can statistically help them focus their thoughts. The more people complain about something, the more likely that's where a solution is needed. For what it's worth, that must count for something.