I once ran the Engineering group at a small business where the CEO was grossly incompetent. Bob came in late every day, was a semi-functional alcoholic and fell asleep in strategy meetings. The guy in charge of Sales, Rick, and I were blown away by this. We talked about our drunk CEO ad nauseum. There were meetings to be had, products to launch, and navigating around Bob’s ineptitude was a tremendous hurdle. Somehow Bob outlasted both Rick and me at the company and we moved on to new opportunities.
Some five years after we worked together, I bumped into Rick at an industry event and we caught up over lunch a few weeks later. The lunch was notable for one thing only: Rick and I had little to talk about because our entire relationship was based on drunken Bob’s antics. I left the meeting with an uneasy feeling that became persistent — “Did I really spend that much energy whining about the nuances of a CEO’s incompetence?” I robbed myself of hundreds of hours that could have been poured into creating a better me.
It turns out science backs up that icky feeling. All that jazz you hear from others about “just needing to vent”, doesn’t hold up. Complaining, in general, is absolutely terrible for you.
After the Rick luncheon, my thoughts wandered to a guy, Adam, with whom I worked on a major project in college. I was always getting off task, informing him of fantasy football injuries or my weekend escapades. Adam kept his eyes on his work and answered every curveball I threw at him with the same, emotionally level response.
Man, that’s crazy.
Adam’s voice was so monotone, his demeanor so measured, his focus on his task so unbroken, it was clear he really meant this:
I have a really important task to execute here and your drivel is out of scope.
….in the politest way possible of course. As I pondered on the wastefulness of the hours spent whining about Bob, my thoughts turned to Adam and how he preternaturally rose above every impediment to produce world-class work. “What gets monitored gets improved” is a common business refrain. So I started counting.
How many times a day I am talking about the behavior of coworkers/leaders/employees for no constructive reason?
I was dismayed at the initial result, but as time went on, the number began to plummet. I tangibly felt my focus shift to churning out great work with a positive attitude. My lack of complaining saved hours of time and helped my job satisfaction tremendously.
Maybe there’s a Bob at your work. Maybe next time just chuckle silently to yourself at his antics. And at lunch with your coworkers maybe speak about your dreams for the future and avoid trying to know the unknowable. And maybe when facing distractions threatening to cripple your productivity just sit back and think to yourself…
Man, that’s crazy.