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Grumble, grumble, moan, moan — negativity at work in Oklahoma

Workplace complainers can flatten productivity, morale
by Paula Burkes Published: July 29, 2012

Stillwater insurance agent Lisa Smith used to work with a man who constantly complained — about everything. He'd start in every morning with how his commute stunk, Smith said, then gripe that his feet or back hurt, and moan before and after every phone call he received.

“The negativity just came off him in waves and sent stress right into me and the rest of us,” Smith said. She used to tense up, grit her teeth and even call in sick to avoid dealing with him, she said.

Amber Dixon said she's seen similar singular personalities negatively affect the productivity and customer service of whole departments at Oklahoma City Abstract & Title Co.

“Many times people don't realize why, or that they're unhappy or dreading work,” said Dixon, president. “But when the complainer is removed from the equation, it's like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders.”

The author of a new business book advocates ways for workers to rewire their brains against complaining, while an Oklahoma City chief executive is sponsoring $500 monthly drawings to encourage his employees to monitor and curtail it.

“Fascinating new research proves the brain can't distinguish fact from fiction, so if you keep hearing negative messages, your workplace behavior will change to fit these new perceptions,” said Trevor Blake, serial entrepreneur and Seattle-based author of “Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life.”

Blake points to Harvard University studies that found the same brain activity between subjects who performed a five-finger piano exercise two hours daily for a week and those who, over the same period, sat on their hands and only imagined playing the piece. Meanwhile, studies at Stanford University, he said, show stresses can cause the same brain cell death as actual negative experiences, he said.

“The research,” Blake said, “gives us hope there are ways to filter out and take more control over negative energy to rewire our brains.”

Among his favorite techniques is envisioning an invisible shield. The late Spanish golfer Seve Gallesteros used the mental trick when playing against beloved American Jack Nicklaus on U.S. courses packed with Nicklaus fans, Blake said. “Seve used to imagine a clear bell jar would come down from the sky to cover and protect him,” he said.

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by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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At a glance

Tips for managing complainers

Revise negative thoughts and images into positive ones. You might think, “They'd never give me that assignment,” but before you say it aloud, intercept and revise it to: “That's the type of challenge I'm ready to tackle once higher-ups take notice of me.” Or if you think, “I'm already exhausted,” immediately conjure up a positive image, like an after-work run in the park.

Ignore or redirect complainers' conversations. Either let complainers' words bounce off you, excuse yourself or redirect exchanges. If a complainer says, “I hate Mondays. The weekend isn't long enough,” counter with “I'm glad I rested up this weekend! Now I'm ready to dig into that big project.”

Go to an imaginary peaceful place, like a sailboat on a lake, or visualize the protection of an invisible shield. Professional athletes often use the latter technique to deflect the negative energy of a hostile crowd.

Ask complainers what they intend to do about their grievances. Most don't want solutions or sympathy, but only to vent. This tactic will stop them in their tracks.

Forgive your lapses. It's human to vent occasionally, but start afresh. The less frequently you complain, the more successful you'll be in rewiring your brain against it.

SOURCE: Trevor Blake, author of “Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life” (BenBella, 2012)

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