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Are there benefits and drawbacks to complaining?




Complaint Department.
Complaint Department.
Flickr/ Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL)

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Going a day without complaining is hard. Today, there are plenty of social media experiments that challenge individuals to stop complaining.

One of these experiments is Joe Kirin's "No Complaints Day Challenge," a Facebook campaign asking people to refrain from complaining for a whole day. To weigh in as to whether or not that's a good thing, we've called up Joanna Wolfe, a professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University who focuses on communication styles.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS


On the concept of complaining:

"Complaining is one way that we form bonds with other people. There's the type of complaining we call a solidarity complaint or troubles talk. It's a way to kind of bond over shared misfortune and show sympathy. A good example might be two strangers at a bus stop might start a conversation over how late the bus is, and this becomes an entryway to talk about other things, find out other things that we have in common. Complaints are also very important if there things that are legitimately wrong in the world and we can't fix them without identifying the problem." 

On the drawbacks of complaining:

"It depends on the type of complaint. We did some research looking at what types of complaints are most annoying to others, and the most annoying complaint is a complaint that has an indirect request embedded in it. So, a good example would be instead of saying 'Close the window' I might just say, 'Oh, it's really cold in here' and leave it up to the person who's listening to make the inference that they should then close the window."

On how hard staying complaint-free actually can be:

"When he did our research and we were looking at student teams, we found that the students were complaining pretty close to about one complaint per minute in these groups. We had a broad definition of complaint, but I think there's lots of things that go on that you don't necessarily identify as a complaint because it's not particularly annoying. It might be the more positive, sympathy expressing type of conversation. But it's still, technically, a complaint."