Jon Gordon’s The No Complaining Rule is a short, fun read with a simple concept that anyone in today’s business world can quickly implement. The book tells a fictional story about a company that combats negativity in its culture by installing and enforcing a no complaining rule.
The rule doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about problems or bring up things that need to be fixed. It just means you can’t engage in mindless complaining; you can only bring a problem to a person who has the ability to fix it, and you must come bearing possible solutions too.
So I started thinking about what would happen if I implemented a no complaining rule in my training room. I have always taken the position that people who are stuck in a tough culture, especially in today’s tough environment for federal agency workers, need to be allowed to vent their frustrations, and if I don’t allow some time for that I’ll never get them to focus on class material. But usually once the venting starts I can’t shut it down and we really get off track. The people who can influence the problems being discussed are not in the room and likely are far removed from the class participants’ daily lives anyway. So the venting is really just mindless complaining that accomplishes nothing.
I wondered how Gordon would deal with the whole concept of people needing to vent, to get things off their chests. His character Joyce, about halfway through the book, says, “No matter what the psychologists say, complaining doesn’t make us feel better. Maybe temporarily, but in the long run complaining creates a cycle of negativity that feeds itself and grows.”
Hmm. So I guess we’re going to refute the findings of experts with an unsubstantiated claim by a fictional character and leave it at that.
But I have to admit that once the cycle of negativity gets going in the classroom it feeds on itself and grows, just like Joyce says. That makes it perhaps just as hard to keep people focused on the class material as not allowing them to vent in the first place.
I’m going to try a modified version of the no complaining rule; it will be called the “complaining time limit.” People can vent for a specified length of time and then we have to focus on linking class material to possible solutions, or we simply move on.