Is Complaining a Part of Problem Solving?

I like to argue on Twitter; perhaps more so than is acceptable by many of the more positive individuals out there. Regardless of how often I find opportunities to argue a point in the 140-character space, I usually try to hold to a few tenets:

  1. Don’t be a jerk
  2. Be constructive in my criticism
  3. Ask questions
  4. Don’t be a jerk
  5. Try to understand the other person’s point of view

I’m not always successful in adhering to these self-imposed guidelines, but I like to think that reminding myself of them makes me a bit more self-aware before engaging in verbal rhetoric. I guess you could say that I’m a bit of a “know-it-all” (those that know me will readily affirm this). I’m not proud of this failing, so I try to actively monitor my level of “jerkiness” in conversation. Other times, I just can’t help myself and try to find nuance, refinement, and subtlety in a medium that does not afford any kindness to those qualities; Twitter is the grammatical equivalent of the declarative statement on steroids. “The worst thing to ever grace this planet is ___________!”, followed by a copious amount of retweets and “favorites” is par for the course on Twitter.

I just couldn’t help myself last week when I saw a few prominent educators on Twitter decrying how much negativity they deal with. They mused that education needs fewer “talkers and complainers”. A common complaint by many, there are times when all of us just wish there weren’t as many nay-sayers, complainers, and “Debbie downers” standing in our way of accomplishing our goals. What’s disappointing to me is when we don’t take those complainers and moments of frustration, and use them as opportunities to find solutions, or at least invitations to connect with people that might genuinely be struggling to overcome fear or anxiety of moving forward into a new reality with their leaders.

Below is a small conversation I had with Eric Sheninger, Erin Klein, and Tom Murray on Twitter last week (yes, I know I pick arguments with influential people, I swear it’s innocent!). It’s mostly in context in order to give you an idea of what I was wrestling with. What exactly is the difference between complaining and problem solving? Can complaining be a critical component of problem solving?


The conversation continued, and David Tebo even chimed in, with a nice comment that offered a different take on the situation:

I could go on, as the conversation meandered through a few more metaphors and thoughts, but essentially what it boiled down to was the nature of whether we allow complaints and negativity to consume us. If it jades us, do we risk walking away from potential points of view and partnerships that may one day prove valuable? I’m not trying to be too naive in my thoughts; rather, I want to believe that those that complain genuinely want to help solve problems, they’re just in a place filled with anxiety, doubt, and worry. I certainly don’t have the experience of leadership at the top of the educational structure that some of these individuals have, but I strive not to discount the feelings of those I work with everyday.

I wonder if I’m too far off the mark here, or if others see complaints as just more opportunities to fine tune solutions, and chisel them into more perfect ideas. After all, if they’re complaining, then they must care enough about an issue that they want others to know their opinions, and understand their viewpoint. Could that be the first step (albeit an awkward one) in their process of problem solving?