Listening to Complainers Is Bad for Your Brain

Listening to Complainers Is Bad for Your Brain

Exposure to nonstop negativity actually impairs brain function. Here’s how to defend yourself.

Do you hate it when people complain? It turns out there’s a good reason: Listening to too much complaining is bad for your brain in multiple ways. Neuroscientists have measured brain activity when faced with various stimuli, including a long session of complaining.

The brain works much like a muscle, so if you’re pinned in a corner for too long listening to someone being negative, this actually peels away neurons in the brain’s hippocampus (the part of your brain you need for problem solving), impacting your intelligence.

So, if you’re running a company, you need to hear about what is not going well, but you need to differentiate between bringing your attention to something that’s awry and a complaint. Typically, people who are complaining don’t necessarily want a solution; they just want you to join in the indignity of the whole thing.

So, how do you defend yourself and your brain from all the negativity?

You should look at complaining as you would ‘passive smoking’. You need to maintain distance, whilst addressing the issue. Try to get the person who’s complaining to take responsibility for a solution. Ask “What do you think is a good way to fix the problem?” Many complainers will be stopped in their tracks here, as you haven’t given them what they wanted. But some may actually try to solve the problem.

When you’re trapped listening to a complaint, you can use mental techniques to block out the griping and save your neurons. You need to create your own imaginary defence shield. A technique used by the late Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros during a match against Jack Nicklaus – a match the crowd wanted Ballesteros to lose. He was having difficulty handling the hostility of the crowd, so he imagined a bell jar, that no one could see but him, descending from the sky to protect him. A related strategy is to mentally retreat to your imagined favourite spot, someplace you’d go if you could wave a magic wand.

Do you have any experience to share about combating negativity?

Extracts from article by Minda Zetlin

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