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All That Stupid Complaining

We have all been there. As we sit innocently in a weekly staff meeting, we listen to others whine and complain about myriad issues from being overworked and underappreciated to the bad coffee in the break room.

As we sit there, we can slowly feel our energy being drained as our creative thoughts seem to flatline and disappear within the din of complaints.

So, is this brain drain all in our head or is there something more to it?

In his new book, Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life, Trevor Blake argues that listening to too much complaining is bad for your brain. He describes how neuroscientists have learned to measure brain activity when faced with various stimuli, including long gripe sessions.

"The brain works more like a muscle than we thought," Blake says. "So if you're pinned in a corner for too long listening to someone being negative, you're more likely to behave that way as well."

Here’s the even worst part — after being exposed to too much complaining you can actually become dumber.

The research shows that exposure to 30 minutes or more of negativity — including viewing such material on TV — actually peels away neurons in the brain's hippocampus. "That's the part of your brain you need for problem solving," Blake says. "Basically, it turns your brain to mush."

I think the net result of Blake’s findings is that our natural instincts are right once again. If you feel uncomfortable, tired, and drained after having to listen to a bunch of complaining, you are not imagining it. Those feelings are real.

Now before your cerebellum becomes silly putty, there are a few defensive maneuvers you can execute to save yourself. Blake offers up these tips:

  • Get some distance
  • Ask the complainer to fix the problem
  • Throw up a mental shield.

I think this is sage advice that I’ll use in the near future. After all, I can’t afford to get any dumber.


About Workforce Development

Joseph F. Bastian
Joseph F. Bastian
President - The Human Performance Network
Joseph F. Bastian is president of The Human Performance Network. Workforce Development offers a variety of solutions for unemployed workers while highlighting professional opportunities for expanding skill sets.

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