• Complaining Not Welcome Here!

    $5 Charge for Whining

    In a recent blog I discussed the Improv principle of “yes, and” vs. “yes, but” and how by changing one word you can change the tone of your response and the reaction of the person you are talking to. This time I’d like to focus on removing whining and complaining from our repertoire. It’s not easy to break kids of that habit and often harder for adults. Whining and complaining usually start with “no” or are accompanied by the dreaded “but” and also stifle creativity and put the recipient on the defensive (never mind just driving them nuts).

    How can you stop this and make it unwelcome?

    Complaint Jar

    You’ve probably seen the commercial with the “swear jar” – how about a “complaint jar”?  I read about this in a book by a friend of mine.  I have used it with a team and just recently participated in a retreat where it was used as well. The concept is that fines are imposed (as a group you can determine the amount) for negative statements or complaints (“we’ve always done it this way” or “we’ve tried it before and it won’t work” are two often heard). Some groups take time to adjust and the jar starts filling up. Once people realize it is impacting their wallets (and others are catching them being negative), they usually pause and rephrase their responses and the jar fills at a slower rate.

    At this past meeting, after the first fine or two was imposed, it was amazing how quickly people started thinking through their responses before opening their mouths. You could almost see the mental wheels turning in people’s heads (including mine), as they tried to make sure their reaction was phrased positively. There were many hard conversations during the meeting involving unpopular choices and decisions to be made and by focusing on what might be possible instead of what won’t or hadn’t worked, the team began coming up with creative solutions and more positive results that will allow them to focus on the future instead of being stuck in the past.

    Accentuate the Positive

    If a “complaint jar” won’t work for your team, how about trying a “gratitude jar” instead?  In this case, you could pass out tokens (pennies, marbles, candy, etc.) to each team member at the start of the meeting. Whenever a team member wants to react negatively to an idea, instead they first need to express gratitude or thanks to someone else on the team (“thanks for bringing that up Sue,” or “that’s an interesting idea Bob”) and then put one of their tokens in a jar at the front of the room. This instantly creates a positive energy in the room and you’d be surprised how quickly that jar will start to fill up.

    It Ain’t Easy

    Yes, that’s awful grammar – and (you thought I’d say ‘but’!) it is true. It is often easier to complain, to say that won’t work instead of thinking about a different way to do things. It is often easier to look for excuses instead of looking for solutions. Sometimes you are not feeling positive or thankful. It’s harder and that’s OK. You have to spend some time thinking, researching and talking. You might have to take a break and do something else. You might need to figure out why it didn’t work before so you can change the result next time.


    Can you think of other ways to squash negative thoughts and complaining with your team? Here are some resources I’ve found (full disclosure – I’ve purchased both books and have highlighted many pages in each):

    The No Complaining Rule by Jon Gordon talks to positive ways to deal with negativity

    Ctrl+ Alt+Believe by my friend Holly Duckworth discusses ways to rethink and reshape your association and she gave me the “fine jar” idea


    Carolyn tries to be a “glass half full” person and whining and complaining are like nails on a chalkboard to her. She strives to help clients look at meetings and building teams from a point of positivity and passion. She is grateful for those who have helped shape her business and continue to support her efforts.


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