Alexander Kjerulf, aka The Chief Happiness Officer and best-selling author of 3 books, published a list of the Top 10 reasons why constant complaining is so toxic in the work place. The #1 reason: It makes thing look worse than they are.
I know things can be hard as a working, single mom trying to lean in, but let’s face it – focusing on it all the time, mentioning it in every conversation definitely makes it seem worse. It can also have a direct negative impact on what you’re trying to accomplish.
In general, most women like to share and in many cases, this sharing takes on the form of complaining, especially at work. We complain about spouses, ex-spouses, kids, teachers, coaches, coworkers. Women bond over mutual misery. So sharing is a way of connecting for us. However, complaining also tells people an awful lot about ourselves. For everything we say, there is interpretation and conclusions drawn.
Complaints can: Impact others perception of how much you can handle
As you describe situations that have overwhelmed you with your children or your ex or your household, you are painting a picture of yourself for the listener. You are showing them that you cannot handle your current situation. Some people, particularly men, will believe what you say. If you say you are too busy or never have time for yourself, then they are unlikely to invite you to after work or weekend activities. It is very likely that they will exclude you in the spirit of helping or supporting you. They may also jump to conclusions. If you stress about getting the kids or not having anyone to keep them during certain times, a manager may assume you cannot make an early or late meeting. They may even decide that it is too difficult for you to travel. These assumptions (again in their mind, they’re being considerate) will limit your access, exposure and opportunity.
It’s important that you stop the complaining about how little time you have and start showing how great your time management skills are because they have to be. Or show how you have creatively surrounded yourself with resources, friends and family who can help alleviate some of your time conflicts and pressures.
Complaints can: Make you look weak
How do we handle people we feel sorry for? We pat them on the head. We coddle them. We don’t tell them to get up and make something happen. We don’t give them more to do or more responsibility. If people feel sorry for you, they see you as weak, or at least weaker than themselves. Successful people seem strong. It is hard enough as a woman to ‘look’ the part when it comes to high powered jobs, as Sandberg talked about in Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. She even talked about it being okay to show emotion at work, but only when that emotion was based on passion, which is a strong emotion. It was not from weakness.
Weak will never be a word used to describe a leader in any situation. So it cannot describe you – personally or professionally.
Complaints can: Reflect on your ability or inability to handle your own consequences
There are two sides to every story. If you are divorced, understand that no matter what happened, your divorce is a consequence of your choices. You decided to marry the person you did or you decided to divorce the person you married. Either way, your current situation is a consequence of your decisions, not your coworkers or your boss. When you complain, it can send the message that you do not believe or understand that certain consequences should have been expected or even planned for. Many women will say that they didn’t want the divorce. Although this may be true, it does not matter in the end. Your personal situation is your own burden to carry, not the burden of those around you at work.
When you handle the consequences of single motherhood and working with grace and poise, it will do one of two things, make you, being a single mom, a non-issue in regards to professional growth and development or make you a rock star. Either one is the result you want.
Nobody likes a whiner, even if your complaints are valid
The truth is you are handling a lot and that is an asset. A single mom has to wear many hats as all mom’s do, but for a single mom, there’s no choice. If a child is up all night, you have to be the one to stay up with them and still go to work in the morning. You can handle one more thing because you don’t have a choice. This is the positive perception that can be created as a single mom. Stories from your everyday life, told from a place of strength and pride – not complaining, will likely make you seem like a superhero. Those stories may even put others who have a hard enough time just getting themselves out of bed and dressed in the morning to shame. Most importantly, it shows that you really can handle a lot – at home and work.
That’s how single mom’s lean in!