Are you Complaining or Solving your Problem?

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

I am not one for complainers.  Those people that take time to vent about the wrongdoings in their life without putting that energy into solutions.  Every problem has a solution.  In fact, most problems have multiple solutions.  And many people often forget that “do nothing” is always an option.

Since my kids were little I have not tolerated complaining.  I feel that it just creates negative energy and serves no good purpose.  How will being good at complaining serve them as students, adults, in life?  I don’t feel it will, and as the mom in the very important role of being their “adults-in-training coach” I ask them when they are venting “are you complaining or solving your problem?”  I am all about solutions and engage them in solution-focused communication related to the challenges they face.

I see this at work all too often.  For example, the other day I had a complainer in my office.  This person spent 30 minutes venting about a situation about which they actually had full control to solve.  Yes, there were solutions in their rant, but these were extreme and unnecessary and in the end they told me how they expected me to solve the problem – without trying a solution themselves.  Not productive, adult-like, or mature.

I guess problem solving for me is an occupational hazard.  As an occupational therapist, I consider my role to ultimately be “options therapy”.  In that, we take any given problem related to function, analyze it, break it down into component parts, and help people to understand all the possible solutions.  Some solutions are easier, shorter and cheaper than others, and some can be elaborate and involved.  Either way, we are not in the business of “control therapy” and need to essentially just empower people to make solid decisions around suitable alternatives and to implement these with or without our support.

So when faced with a complainer, boldly ask them if they are complaining or solving their problem.  Help them to generate a list of possible solutions, including the pros and cons of each.  In the end you will be showing them that not only is complaining unproductive, but there are calm and thoughtful ways to work through problems that will bring clarity, reduce stress, and ultimately lead to resolve.