The No Complaining Rule

"In life you have a choice between two roads: The positive road and the negative road. The positive road will lead to enhanced health, happiness, and success and the negative road will lead to misery, anger, and failure. Since your bus can’t be on two roads at the same time, you must decide which road you want to be on. And when you complain, you travel down the negative road."

- The No Complaining Rule, page 41

Complaining is an activity that generates little value. Whether you are the one complaining or the one listening to it, you’re left less satisfied and more miserable once ceased. I once read that, “No problem is so bad that complaining won’t make it worse.” The cost of complaining reaches beyond personal annoyance. The Gallup Organization estimates that “negativity costs the U.S. economy between $250-$300 billion in lost productivity each year.” So if the costs of negativity are so great why aren’t people more positive? Jon Gordon, author of The No Complaining Rule: Positive Ways to Deal with Negativity at Work, believes that we can all become more positive, but it starts with acting on one simple rule.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

The no complaining rule

"Employees are not allowed to mindlessly complain to their coworkers. If they have a problem or complaint about their job, their company, their customer, or anything else, they are encouraged to bring the issue to their manager or someone who is in a position to address the complaint. However, the employees must share one or two possible solutions to their complaint as well."
- The No Complaining Rule, page 95

We have a choice in life to focus on the positive or negative. Less than ideal things happen to all of us. The no complaining rule encourages us to focus on the positive and work on finding solutions to the less than ideal.

The no complaining rule is not about creating a culture of rigid adherence where no one can speak out. It is, however, about creating buy-in where the petitioner feels part of the process. Gordon likens the process to going from a passenger to a driver on a bus. Positive companies and positive cultures are a product of deliberate choice. They are created, emphasized, and continuously encouraged while trying to minimize unnecessary complaints. The no complaining rule is a deliberate decision to avoid complaining for the sake of complaining. It may be hot outside, but stating the obvious discomfort will do nothing to improve the situation.

Gordon believes that there are two reasons why people complain: (1) They are fearful and helpless or (2) It has become habit.  The feelings of fear or helplessness can stem from a lack of communication or understanding. The habit occurs after seeing how everyone else joins in once someone starts complaining. Misery does love company. How then can you break the habit?

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Have a complaining fast

"... you do a No Complaining Day. I call it a complaining fast. You quit cold turkey. It’s great because it causes you to monitor your thoughts and realize how negative you really are."
- The No Complaining Rule, page 45

Rather than slowly weaning yourself off of complaining day by day, Gordon recommends an immediate moratorium on your complaining. Such a sudden change can help you see the stark contrast in behavior and attitude. Fasting in most forms requires a concerted effort to focus on something other than that which you are abstaining. A complaint fast is no different, and the author recommends working to insert thoughts of gratitude, compliments for others, or meditating where you would normally be complaining.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Turn complaints into solutions

"Every complaint represents an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive."
- The No Complaining Rule, page 50

It may a bit idealistic to expect to eliminate all complaints both from yourself as well as others. Gordon acknowledges this truth and explains that the goal with the no complaining rule is to reduce mindless complaining, complaining that doesn’t do anything. Instead, the end goal is to take those complaints that remain, valid complaints, and turn them into actionable solutions. This requires a great deal more effort, however, it does produce results. With practice people stop bringing up complaints until they have a few solutions to accompany the complaint.

It is difficult to stop complaining. I thought I was an occasional complainer but felt that I could do better and set a date to try a complaining fast. So long as I was by myself it went pretty well, I don’t talk to myself too much. Then as if to tempt my resolve, my car decided to overheat in the 96 degree heat a few miles from town. As my wife and I made the several mile trek to a friend’s house to borrow a truck and tow the car to the mechanic, I tried to avoid complaining, talking about my run that morning or what I had for dinner. Initially my comments felt a bit forced, however, with time I came to realize how good my life is. Despite the vexing situation, my no complaining rule held, for the most part.

Even going into the fast believing that I don’t complain a lot, having an absolute moratorium on the behavior made me acknowledge that it occurred more frequently than I realized. After the initial discomfort of having to bite back various complaints, I noticed that my attitude started to improve. It is a subtle difference, but a difference none the less.

How do you plan to implement the no complaining rule?

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Jakob Browning

ABOUT Jakob Browning

I am Jakob Browning. This fall I'll start my final year of law school. I enjoy running long distances. I have three younger brothers who will all probably be taller than me soon...
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