Updated: Jan 15
Video games are not my thing, but spending time with my son is. This means I find myself playing Madden occasionally, working my eye-thumb coordination and doing the best I can to get my offense to put a score or two on the board before the game ends.
Let’s be real, my Tetris and Zelda skills were weak as a child, so you can imagine my passing, rushing and tackling is even worse. And yet, I do my best.
A few weekends ago, as we played, I laughed listening to the commentators describe my teams performance.
“Wow, this is uncharacteristic of this offensive line. They sure seem disillusioned out there.”
“Man, we have never seen such a low scoring game before.”
“Did you see that player just tackle the air like that?”
If you are really good at playing the game I am sure your commentators have some very nice compliments for you. But for me, when the playing is less than average, the comments are negative.
Here is the thing - the commentary doesn’t improve the game.
Commentary doesn’t change the plays, the process or the results of the game.
The game is improved by the coaches and players on the field - the ones creating the action.
Similarly, commentating or complaining about our culture - at work or home - doesn’t improve the situation.
“Wow, can you believe what our boss said after the meeting? Who does he think he is?”
“Man, I feel like no one listens or even cares - they just expect us to keep improving when it feels like we are drowning.”
“Did you hear what the new policy for time off is going to be? It’s ridiculous!”
Complaining doesn’t create positive change.
Talking about what we don’t like or wish were different, doesn’t create forward progress.
It actually does damage.
Complaining shrinks your problem solving abilities: In 1996 a Stanford study found that complaining or listening to someone else complain for 30 min a day actually shrunk the hippocampus of the brain which is responsible for problem solving.
Complaining rewires your brain to complain more: Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely.
Complaining hurts your health: When you complain, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. All the extra cortisol released by frequent complaining impairs your immune system and makes you more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It even makes the brain more vulnerable to strokes.
But how often do we hear others or ourselves complaining about elements of culture instead of proactively getting in the game and creating culture?
It’s easier to talk about it on the sidelines than to take action on the field, but sadly without action we don’t move forward.
So, how can each of us practically create culture instead of damaging ourselves and others by complaining?
Since culture is created by what we model, create and allow, here are a few questions to help evaluate the role we are playing in creating our culture:
(Model) Culture is a reflection of behavioral rhythms - what rhythms, or consistent behaviors, are you intentionally adding to your culture?
When you arrive in the morning, do you head straight to your work station or do you stop and say hello to co-workers along the way?
When you head for your lunch break, do you go solo or do you invite others to join you?
When you kick off a meeting, do you jump straight into the action items or do you hold a few moments at the start to ask how everyone is doing?
(Create) Culture is built on what intentionally make time for - what does your culture need you to make time for each day?
Does your culture lack fun and engagement? What could you add that would bring fun and a sense of excitement to the team?
Does your culture need appreciation? How can you incorporate saying “thank you” and appreciating the work those around you are doing?
Does your culture feel overworked and understaffed and they need help prioritizing and saying “no” intentionally? How could you support your boss to identify the work that is taking time but not adding value?
(Allow) Culture is impacted by what we allow to continue - what does your culture need you to reconsider?
What behaviors are major killers of the culture that makes your team or organization special? How can you redirect or remove those behaviors from being a norm?
What behaviors are slow silent killers of your culture - the death by a thousand paper cuts kind? How can you bring light to the impact they are having?
What behaviors need to be added and amplified by the culture to keep it special moving forward? How can you be a champion for those?
Culture is created by what we model, create and allow - not by how we complain. Complaining kills our culture and our health and we find ourselves contributing to the very thing we wish was different.