Insight article

Complaining turns your brain to mush

We all experience it. And we all do it at some point (agreed, some more than others). But listen up. It's official: complaining impairs your brain function, and listening to someone having a good old gripe is more likely to make you behave that way too.

Trevor Blake, author of 'Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life' explains how neuroscientists have worked out that not only does negativity infect others, but it also impedes the part of the brain that you need for problem-solving.

This isn't good news for business. The last thing business leaders need is people being negative and others following suit. This chimes loudly with us at The Storytellers. Our approach is in fact based on the same principle, but in reverse. It's true that beliefs influence behaviours, and by behaving differently (driven by our beliefs) we can actually influence others to behave differently and ultimately shift the 'social norms' (and therefore drive culture change) within organisations.  And positive stories are the currency of changing attitudes and behaviours, which is why we strive to help create storytelling cultures in organisations. These organisations are those where stories of success, linked to the strategy and vision of the organisation, are shared across the entire organisation to spread positivity, belief that new ways of thinking and working are A Good Thing for both individuals and the organisation, and to encourage others to follow suit.

Yet while positivity reigns in some areas of the organisation, there are always those who, driven by a different agenda or inability to embrace change, seek to undermine the positive efforts of others to make change happen. These are the complainers. The people who – be warned – may make you feel negative about things too and turn your brain to mush. Call them cynics, sceptics, or downright terrorists (those who are actively disruptive and unlikely to ever come round). These are the people who simply refuse to adopt new ways of working, justifying their actions through words of negativity about the state of the nation, who pull others aside 'in confidence' to infect them too with stories that counteract the positive aspects of change. This is where strong and effective leadership is so critical, and where 'change ambassadors' – the natural influencers in organisations – can really make a difference.

The reality is that people who will never change tend not to last in an organisation. And if they do, leaders must accept that change will be a very slow process. Our advice is to focus on where the positive energy is, and use that energy to influence others. It helps if you have a compelling story to tell about where you're going as a business and why, so you can rationalise your actions and decisions and use it as a reference point for stories of success.

So next time you're at the water cooler, and someone comes along to start complaining at length, remember that you're at risk of turning into one of 'them'. And remember too, that in most good stories, good overcomes evil. So resist. There's a film in here somewhere.

Nailia Tasseel