More Harm Than Good

Dennis Friedman

EVER SINCE COVID-19 disrupted our lives, I don’t go to the gym that often. I usually work out on my own. When I go, I sometimes see Tony. Tony is still Tony. He’s a chronic complainer. It’s usually about little things.

The other day, he was chatting with a woman at the gym. While Tony was talking, she gave me a smile. It was her way of warning me that Tony was complaining again. I know everyone complains, including me. But there’s a limit to how much you can complain before it does you more harm than good.

Early in my career, I worked with a man named Bob. We were both production planners responsible for making sure the factory was meeting its production deadlines. During our weekly status meeting, Bob was complaining once again to our manager about an issue at the factory. The boss ignored Bob’s comment until another coworker, Barbara, said she was experiencing the same problem.

Bob became angry because, when he brought up the issue, it went unanswered. The boss said, “Bob, you complain all the time. Barbara rarely complains. You should save up your complaints for something that’s really important to you.”

What our manager was trying to explain to Bob was that people stop listening to you if you complain too much. You lose credibility. They don’t take you seriously if you constantly nitpick.

That’s what happened to Bob. People stopped listening to him. When that happened, his job became more difficult. Although Bob was a hard-working employee, he was eventually let go.

I kept in touch with Bob over the years. He jumped from one job to another until he became a driver for a major U.S.-based multinational shipping and receiving company. It was the perfect job for Bob. He spent most of his time out on the road delivering packages. It was just him and his truck. No one to complain to. Bob had found his niche and worked there for the rest of his career.

I learned early in my adult life that, if you want to be successful, it sometimes takes more than skill, education and experience. You also need to be able to get along with your coworkers. I found it increased my productivity and overall happiness at work. That’s why it’s important to sharpen your social skills—and be selective about the fights you pick.

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