Business Brains

Warning, perpetual complainers are bad for your brain

Posting in Cancer

A new book by serial entrepreneur Trevor Blake suggests exposure to negativity can negatively affect your ability to solve problems.

Emotional venting is a valuable human behavior, but the people around you who always find negative things to say about everyone and every situation aren't just annoying, they could be negatively impacting your ability to think positively.

That's the thesis of a new book called "Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life," written by serial entrepreneur Trevor Blake, who currently runs ANU, a non-profit venture developing low-side-effect cancer drugs.

"The brain works more like a muscle than we thought," Blake told Inc. in an article about the book. "So, if you're pinned in a corner for too long listening to someone being negative, you're more likely to behave that way as well."

Exposure to more than 30 minutes worth of negativity per day from any source -- the television, your customers, your boss, your businesses partners, your colleagues -- can actually negatively affect your ability to solve problems, Blake told Inc.

Mind you, part of life as a manager involves responding to complaints (legitimate or otherwise). So how can you and other members of your company's management team make sure that you focus on solving the real problems that your business faces -- without trying to respond to all the other gripes?

The book focuses on three tactics:

  1. Distance yourself by choosing not to hang out with complainers. Not always easy, but if you make a conscious decision to filter, it should help.
  2. Ask complainers to come up with a solution to their problem. This is a policy that was in force in a big way at my old company. Pity the person who went to their manager to gripe about something without having thought about how to fix it. It definitely cuts down on complaints.
  3. Use a positive image to help negate negativity. Imagine being an athlete on a sports team competing on enemy turf (like the Boston Red Sox in Yankee Stadium). You can bet the home fans are trying to bombard those players with negativity, and you can bet every one of those athletes has a strategy for visualizing a more pleasant environment.

Mind you, this is not to say that you should encourage your team to hide negative developments that could adversely affect your business. I personally recognize the need for everyone to left off steam lest smaller complaints fester into a much bigger issue. But applying the right filters and policies to discourage constant negativity could improve the chances that a real problem gets solved and that your team has the positive mental focus to get their job done.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Creative Commons

Share this

Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure