The word I most dislike in the English language is “but.” This is the standard fare of the abominable “No-Man”. It turns out that listening to complainers is bad for your brain (INC magazine report). Exposure to nonstop negativity actually impairs brain function clip according to Trevor Blake, a serial entrepreneur and author of Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life. In the book, he describes how neuroscientists have learned to measure brain activity when faced with various stimuli, including a long gripe session

“The brain works more like a muscle than we thought,” Blake says. “So if you’re pinned in a corner for too long listening to someone being negative, you’re more likely to behave that way as well.”

“There’s a big difference between bringing your attention to something that’s awry and a complaint,” Blake says. “Typically, people who are complaining don’t want a solution; they just want you to join in the indignity of the whole thing. This will damage your brain even if you’re just passively listening. And if you try to change their behavior, you’ll become the target of the complaint.”

How do you defend yourself and your brain from all the negativity? Blake recommends these tactics:

  1. Get some distance. Your brain will thank you if you get yourself away from the complainer.
  2. Ask the complainer to fix the problem. Try to get the person who’s complaining to take responsibility for a solution. Ask “What are you going to do about it?” Many complainers walk away huffily at that point. Some may actually try to solve the problem.
  3. Shields up! When you’re trapped listening to a complaint, you can use mental techniques to block out the griping and save your neurons. Major League Baseball pitchers can sometimes be seen mouthing “Shields on!” as they stride to the mound.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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