Whining workers are hurting colleagues’ brains

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Do you feel stupider after listening to someone complain? It might not just be a feeling – studies show listening to complaining is bad for your brain.

Neuroscientists have found that 30 minutes or more of negativity damages neurons in the part of the brain used for problem solving.

While some complaints might be valid and important, there’s a big difference between looking for solutions to a problem, and non-stop complaining, author Trevor Blake said.

"Typically, people who are complaining don't want a solution; they just want you to join in the indignity of the whole thing,” Blake said. “You can almost hear brains clink when six people get together and start saying, 'Isn't it terrible?' This will damage your brain even if you're just passively listening. And if you try to change their behavior, you'll become the target of the complaint."

Need to defend yourself, or your employees against a serial complainer? Here are Blake’s top tips:

  1. Distance
    Blake compares complaining to secondhand smoke – it’s hard to change someone else’s habits, even if you’re the one being harmed. If you can distance yourself from the whinger you’ll be affected less by this passive force that’s outside your control.
  1. Ask for solutions
    Often people just want to air their complaints, but you can put the onus back on them. "Try to get the person who's complaining to take responsibility for a solution," Blake said. "I typically respond to a complaint with, 'What are you going to do about it?'"
  1. Shield yourself
    Imagine some kind of defense system going up around you. Blake prefers the imagery of a Harry Potter invisibility cloak, but other suggestions include a Star Trek style “shields up” or an invisible bell jar between you and the culprit.

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