This week began the first principle in Dale Carnegie’s book for a small group of Alt MBA students who expressed interest in taking How to Win Friends and Influence People in measured steps. Until Sunday night (and hopefully much longer!), we’ve resolved not to criticize, condemn, or complain.
I have a teeny case of the high horse here, but this is still hard for me. If you’re used to criticizing and complaining, it can be hard to give up. It can be hard to see how it could possibly benefit you to quit! In fact, it can feel a lot like you’re giving up your power to affect the world around you—after all, many of us learned directly from our parents that the best way to change other people was to harp at them. (Don’t worry. You’re not alone.)
The thing is, criticism and complaints don’t actually get you anywhere. You may feel like they’re letting you vent, getting it out of your system, or helping you work through a difficult problem—but the criticism and the complaints parts of the equation don’t get you closer to those goals. They set you back from them. Any specific negativity will do this. If you’re succeeding, it’s in spite of yourself. (Incidentally, some incredibly successful people have removed complaints from their routine, not even counting Dale.)
You know as well as I do that resolutions like this one are tough, but the effects they have on your life are amazing. You start to understand people better, and it’s easier to empathize with them. It’s easier to imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes and grok what they’re going through. It dramatically reduces the amount of negativity, conflict, and drama in your life. (You think your life is hard? Quit criticizing, quit condemning, and quit complaining. It will get ridiculously easier—almost overnight!)
I don’t care what you have to do. Bite your tongue. Use a substitute (at one time, I was partial to “bananaphone”). Replace one set of habits with another. Stand on your head, or give someone a buck, or toss a piece of chocolate into the trash every time you hear a complaint coming out of your mouth. (Or switch your 21-day no complaints bracelet to the other wrist, and start all over again.) It doesn’t matter what it takes; if you make this happen, you’ll see a great change in your life, and you won’t be all that sure you want to go back to the way things were.
What are they worth anyway, complains and criticism? They remind you that you’re feeling bad. They don’t lead you to solve the problem—the more you complain, the less you’re solving anything at all. Often, complaints make the people around you uncomfortable (depending on their intensity, and your environment) and unfettered criticism definitely makes someone somewhere feel bad—if not, you have to wonder if they’ll eventually find out, which isn’t all that enjoyable either.
Instead of criticizing, try to understand what the other person is going through. Realize that you’d probably be doing the same thing if you were them. Offer constructive suggestions, but don’t simply tell a person what she’s doing wrong. That never helps. Tell her what she’s doing right—and help her along.
Instead of complaining, build an intelligent plan to manage the thing you’d otherwise be complaining about. Make a change. Make a lot of changes! Don’t bemoan your lot—fix it. You’ll get more done in less time, and your friends will quit worrying that someday, it’ll be them you’re complaining about. Be positive, be optimistic, and be constructive. You’ll feel great about yourself, and productive, too—you’ll grow faster.
You know me, I’ll do anything in the name of conscious growth. ;}
So give it a try, will you?