Building Community Through Negativity

Building Community Through Negativity

A good friend and co-worker once told me: “If you don’t complain about your job you don’t care about your job.”  My friend also believes that sarcasm is the highest form of humor, but there was meant to be a kernel of honesty in his words.   So in the same spirit, I write with just a flavoring of facetiousness.

Nothing brings people together like sitting around and griping.  Common enemies make for tight friendships.  I have often bonded with colleagues over high-minded topics such as “That Was Three Layers of Inept,” “My Time Is Better Served Watching Ke$ha Videos,” and “What Drunk Monkey Came Up With That Idea?”  An outsider may perceive this as merely complaining, but we are actually improving our workplace.  The greater the vitriol, the more we care.  A dispassionate worker is one who has nothing invested in the job.  And so we list our grievances to each other not because we dislike our duty but because we can envision a better means of carrying it out.

Grousing with my colleagues brings us closer because we are sharing our concerns.  And since I work in a male dominant office, griping at each other is considered a high form of emotional expression.  If we don’t have these criticisms to bond over, what do we have?  If I can’t hear my partner tell me, “I hate that too,” then we lose an important connection.

There is a line, of course, that can be crossed by the sour, contemptuous cynic who hates work, life, and all forms of carbon-based organisms.  No one wants to trade complaints with him for fear of being drawn into his own personal darkness.  He’s not looking to make the world better with disdain, just even the playing field by bringing down everyone to his level of self loathing.

As counter intuitive as it may seem, negativity can otherwise be a wonderful tool for building positive corporate spirit.  Call it complaining, but we are problem solving.  Better than letting it fester internally, we verbalize.  Negativity isn’t necessarily pessimism, either.  Seated in criticism is optimism that we can bring about change.  On rare occasions, grumbling is heard by those who can effectuate positive transformations.

So, in a way, my moaning isn’t merely constructive.  It is revolutionary!

This guest post comes from my husband. If you know me, you know his name and also why I choose not to publish it here. We married young after dating long distance. Our courtship took place before email, cell phones, and text messages. We wrote long letters instead, and I fell in love in part because of those words sent back and forth and his skill in writing.

Since I am busy writing every day for the Bud to Boss Community blog, he volunteered to write something for me to post here. We’re a writing family. I hope you will share  your comments with my husband on his very first blog post ever.

Filed As:  guest post, Mr. Becky

About Becky Robinson

I am the owner of Weaving Influence and the leader of the Weaving Influence team. We help authors and thought leaders grow their online influence. I am also a wife and mom of three daughters, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, a good cup of coffee, and dark chocolate.

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What People Are Saying

  • This is a paradigm shift of note. I guess it is ok to moan if you are going to the source and looking to do something to change what is bothering you. Moaning for the sake of having something to complain about I do not see as healthy. I am not a supporter of people that have conversations of suffering.

    • I accept your negativity as a positive.

  • LOL! You made me laugh so much with this piece! Especially with “griping at each other is considered a high form of emotional expression.” Guys! Well, I believe it is also true of frustrated housewives at breakfast get-togethers so you don’t have the exclusive on this one!

    Negativity is, after all, just a label. If the talking brings you around to the problem-solving and the bonding you describe, it can be categorized as positive, too! Proactive. Effective. Sounds pretty positive in my book!

    Thanks for a great post and welcome to the wonderful world of blogging!

  • Welcome to the blogging world Mr Becky. I can see that an e-book won’t be far behind…”Teambuilding through Gossip”.

    A fun and far to true read. Thanks.

  • Becky. You’ll have to let your husband guest post more often. He has a lot in common with Scott Adams.

    Mr. Becky. Great post. In my mind, it’s more brutal honesty than negativity. Sometimes people in the corporate environment are so caught up in being PC and office politics that honesty gets left behind. This is not doing the organization a favour, even though many might perceive it that way.

    The last line in your second paragraph is key and may have been missed by those who also missed the meaning in your first paragraph. If there was no truth to what you wrote, Dilbert wouldn’t be so popular.

    • Thank you for recognizing the importance of the last line in the second paragraph. The entire post was meant to be a “Davinci Code” of wisdom, only to be deciphered by the pure of heart. You are truly one of the illuminati.

      Also, I like Wally from the Dilbert cartoons. He looks funny.

  • Eric – nicely written! When can I expect a book co-written by Becky & you? 😉

    • I intend for Becky to write the book. My part will be criticizing its content. I call this role “managing editor.”

  • Great column. Too many organizations expect happy faces all the time and criticism of any kind means you are not a team player. As you pointed out, there is a line that is crossed when going from legitimate criticism to just being negative and complaining.

    I tend to be direct and at times blunt. Always in an appropriate time an place, i.e., behind closed doors, and not in a public meeting or public place. I know that I am doing the right thing, but company PC is always the most important.

    Organization leaders that only want “yes men” are doomed to failure.

    • Here’s the easy way to tell the difference between what I would label “legitimate complainers” and those who are simply being negative:

      Those who care about the job and are frustrated by poor leadership or lack of resources will say, “This company refuses to change…” The sour worker who crosses the line will add, “Yeah, and my wife is too fat.”

      Another method is cutting off a limb and counting the rings. That’s what they taught us in Boy Scouts, if my memory is correct.

  • This plays out time and again in so many venues of life. Glad to use this as a quotable source for a recent conversation. Well timed Mr E. –Thanks

  • Interesting and valid point. I believe those that doesn’t have anything to complain about are either on the verge of resigning or are being blackmailed, hehe.

    Great post!:)

  • Becky – please pass on to your husband that I definately enjoyed that article. We’ve been dealing with negativity where I work and it gets very frustrating….especially with trying to not get sucked into it and trying to stay positive myself and continue to enjoy my career choice….this blog definately put a spin on my situation and gave me a new outlook on thinking. Thanks so much!!!

    • Thank you for the candor that you are dealing with negativity at work. As I said, if you don’t complain about your job you don’t care about your job. Unfortunately, today was one of those occasions wherein I cared so very much about my job all day long.

  • Becky,
    Your(and your husband’s)blog piece stretches far across industries. I read this in ATA SmartBrief today (from the Air Transport Association). Such a surprise to ‘see’ you on ATA, old friend!

    Your husband has some great points in his comments. Might I add that grousing can certainly be an effective form of communication if directed toward the right audience. Unfortunately, many who grouse often do not know their audience and should be cautious.

    Best, Steph

    • I took a few post graduate classes related to audience grousing, and am therefore ISO 9000 certified to complain only to qualified listeners.

    • Steph,

      Your comment totally made my day. How cool that you subscribe to a SmartBrief that picked up my blog.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I hope you’ll come back and read more of what I’m sharing here.

      I so love the way social media has made the world smaller and allowed us to reconnect!

      HUGS to my old friend!

  • Mr. Becky!

    Enjoyed the post and the comments too.

    Grousing is inevitable in all aspects of life and work. In fact ignoring this truth can often be problematic. Your positive spin is great: Grousing with my colleagues brings us closer because we are sharing our concerns.

    In my line of work, Performance Improvement, we focus on the individual and team. We try to understand what is in their heads, what they are going through. A common question for a client is: What is the water cooler talk? Knowing this can unlock many mysteries to employee engagement.

    And often starting a workshop seminar with a time-limited “grousing” session often builds trust, commitment, and collaboration towards commitment for the agenda items at hand!

    Enjoyed the read… looking forward to more.


    • Great idea with the grousing sessions at workshops. Specifically, that you put a time limit upon them.

  • Becky, this is an important perspective that leaders/bosses too often miss. Another way of looking at it is, “I care enough to be irked.”

    Employees who truly care will always try to “fix” it. If they don’t have the power to fix what’s wrong, then they resort to complaining. But in the majority of cases, they complain because they care.

    I wrote much more lucidly about this on Compensation Cafe not long ago for those who may be interested. Here I explain the difference (and how to spot them) between the true “malcontents” and the “vocals” (those complaining because they care).

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