There’s you, your coworker and a frustrating meeting that’s made you want to scream from the rooftops. But before you open the floodgates, ask yourself, What’s the goal here? What am I hoping to get out of this vent session? Here’s why: While complaining is a good thing (it’s one of the most natural ways to express your emotions), how you complain can make a difference in terms of how you feel afterward. According to The New York Times, there are three different types of complainers. Two are healthy, the third is not. So which type are you? Read on to find out.
There Are 3 Types of Complaining (but Only 2 Are Good for You)
1. The Venter
About that work meeting. You really do have some stuff you’d like to get off your chest. And venting does just that: It allows us to air our grievances so that they don’t snowball and increase our stress. After all, suppressing negative emotions can take a toll on our health, according to a study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research. Venting is a form of complaining that allows us to acknowledge those feelings, voice our irritations as they relate to specific experiences and then move on. Better yet, it helps us articulate our reactions to a particular event. For the sake of stress reduction, this is a positive thing. And if your ten minutes of venting is coupled with feedback from colleagues or peers that helps you feel better or gain perspective, that’s just a bonus.
2. The Problem Solver
With all types of complaining, the goal is to feel better and blow off steam, but the problem solver has another focus: They want to strategize to find a solution that improves the situation or at least helps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The New York Times calls this “instrumental complaining.” In other words, there’s an actionable goal behind the words you’re expressing. You need someone’s help to “fix” the situation and want their advice, or you’d like to brainstorm some solutions. This is the best kind of complaining since there’s an expected—and immediate—outcome. (Per the Times, it also helps to be crystal clear about your objective with the person you’re complaining to.)
3. The Dweller
Your friend made a backhanded compliment about your “busy” schedule. You’re still talking about it three weeks later…and you can’t seem to let it go. This type of complaining is not good for the soul. In fact, it goes back to the original question we asked: What’s the purpose of airing your grievance? Are you complaining to find a solution? Or complaining for the sake of complaining? If it’s the latter, that means you could be ruminating a bit too much and letting negativity get the best of you. This can have a long-term impact, not just on your health, but on your ability to build relationships too. (Complaining about a specific instance one time is different from being a broken record about it.)
Bottom line: If you’re going to complain—which is a natural impulse and not something to feel guilty about—think about what you’re aiming to get from it. If your answer fits the first or second scenarios laid out above, you’re on the right track.