Complainers vs. Problem Solvers

on July 5 | in Uncategorized | by | with No Comments

By Nancy Brown-Johnston

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” Maya Angelou

Are you a complainer or a problem solver? That is a pretty simple, straight-forward question, and your answer is probably, “it depends.” We have a right to complain, and complaining isn’t a problem until it becomes our standard response.

Complaining is becoming epidemic in our world and most of us complain more than we realize.¹ Here is a personal example:

One day on a commuter flight from Chicago to Nashville, I found myself growing impatient. The flight was almost full; I was lucky to be in the emergency exit row. Although we boarded on time, the plane was being held for a few late arriving passengers. I remember thinking, “they never hold the plane for me.” The seat next to me was empty. Then, down the aisle came three sweaty, stressed out passengers. One was a big guy with a big bag and coat. I remember thinking, “oh no, not my seat mate.” Of course, he was. He sat down next to me and immediately began to talk. I thought, “oh great, this is just what I need.” Are you counting? That’s three complaints in less than five minutes!

He told me he and his colleagues were traveling from Alaska to Nashville for a conference and that they had been traveling since early morning along with all kinds of weather and travel issues. They were so glad to make this flight. He was so friendly and nice, actually cheerful. I felt guilty for the initial bad thoughts I had about him. Then, it became even worse!

He was very extroverted and inquisitive and of course asked me all about my work and then told me all about his. After a few minutes, he got out of his seat and dug into the overhead compartment to find a book he wanted me to see. It turns out his company was implementing a “complaint-free culture,” and he was one of the facilitators. When he found out about my training background and work, he wanted to share this resource with me. I spent the next hour reading his book.

Ironically, the book was A Complaint Free World: take the 21-day challenge. The author, Will Bowen, defines a complaint as “an expression of grief, pain, or discontentment.” Bowen challenges his readers to go 21 days without speaking complaints, criticism, or gossip in order to form new positive habits, increase their consciousness, and become problem solvers. I’ve tried it and can attest it is difficult. It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy. I found the book to be confirming of my ideas about choice, complaining, and problem solving.

I have been working with the concepts of problem solving for years. I feel strongly that we can choose our behavior and approach to most situations. In our TripleWin program, Powered by 3 Wins, we define a framework of choice based on being Reactive or Proactive. We created the Choice Path™ to describe the difference between complaining and problem solving, advocating proactivity whenever and where ever possible.We have a choice in most situations of how to respond. When we take the reactive path, we take our experience and let our feelings drive our reaction.

In a sense, we ignore the actual issues and deny our involvement or responsibility in dealing with them. Eventually, it becomes easy to blame someone else. Given the same situation, with the intent to be a problem solver, we make a different choice. We recognize the situation and go into problem solving mode. We take ownership of resolving it. There is often satisfaction and pride gained by accepting responsibility and accountability for solving the problem.

 Are you making good choices?

  1. Are you a complainer or a problem solver?
  2. When was the last time you discussed how to solve a problem?
  3. Are you satisfied with how well you are solving problems?

[1] – A Compliant Free World, Take the 21-Day Challenge, Will Bowen, 2007.

Nancy Brown-Johnston has worked in the field of training and organization development in many companies around the world, including General Motors, Saturn Corporation, the US Army, and Delphi Automotive Systems. Nancy co-founded and served as the director of Saturn Consulting Services (SCS), where she led the development of the SCS courses. She also managed the marketing and consulting services to more than 200 external customers, including Chevrolet, Opel, Saab, Delphi Automotive Systems, the U.S. Army, U.S.P.S., and Zeneca Ag Products.

TripleWin’s Professional Development Program is provides theories, models and practice sessions to support developing strong problem solving skills and personal accountability. For more information, see

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