Why Serial Complainers Lose Credibility

never complain
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So why do serial complainers lose credibility on and offline?

We all know these people, the kvetch or worse, the troll, the person that always brings a storm cloud whenever they discuss an issue.

Publicly everyone listens, privately they get dismissed on the back channel as a hater or worse. Eventually, people stop listening all together.

The title alone is the answer, specifically, repeat complaining.

In social communities the consistent malcontent becomes the equivalent of the boy who cried wolf. In fact, if the malcontent goes so far as to hurt others, they breed a form of reciprocity that no one really wants to see, vengeance.

A German study from the Institute for the Study of Labor shows that negative acts create a similar responsive reciprocity, a willingness to harm those who previously acted against the surveyed individual.

Sometimes this takes the form of shunning and a cold shoulder, other times direct responses, specifically, negative commenting, blog posts or outright hostile acts.

But the larger effect on readership and community cannot be underestimated. Consider how negativity impacts political campaigns. It actually demobilizes constituencies, causing them to turn away from the polls.

A parallel to online communities can be drawn. While consistent negativity may rally people with the same ideology (think clique), it actually turns away those who are more casual readers, those who are less zealous.

An interesting theory. As a a gambling man, I’d put money that if studied, the theory holds water.

Writers and community managers that want to foster long-term interest need to weigh their words.

It’s not that we should turn away from tough discussions. Believe in a cause or a fight? Then by all means pick up the mantle.

But pick your battles, too. Find ways to discuss the same issue in a more balanced manner.

If every conversation focuses on the negative, if every debate is a criticism, if every communication taxes the general good will and equity you’ve built up, then expect to find yourself in a downward spiral.

What do you think? Does serial negativity hurt community and reader interest?

28 Replies to “Why Serial Complainers Lose Credibility”

  1. First time reader, first time commenter (please cue radio applause clip).

    I’ll take the time to dig a bit deeper when someone is publicly complaining and offer a positive solution. However, I can’t associate with serial complainers (grumpy cat aside) because negativity is cancerous… It breeds negativity. If I know/care about the person and it’s a change in course from their typical demeanor, I’ll attempt an intervention. But the thing is, people have to care more about changing their thought process than I do. Otherwise, they’ll become a perma-victim and continue to bring everyone around them down.

    Nice piece, Geoff.

    1. I agree. And sometimes they do want to change, and other times they don’t. You can only work with the willing, as they say. Great insights, Tony!

  2. Amen. I’ve written about this a few times myself.

    “Publicly everyone listens, privately they get dismissed on the back channel as a hater or worse. Eventually, people stop listening all together.” Exactly! My hope is that others will think about who they associate with and realize that they have the power to say “your constant complaining is a downer” or something along those lines to help the complainer realize that no one likes it. Everyone has a bad day now and then, choose to not drag your friends or community down too. Life’s too short to deal with jerks.

    1. I agree, and it’s funny how this turns into a groupthink and everyone becomes sour. I’ve seen it happen, even participated in it. Nothing good can come from being exposed to serial negativity for a long period of time.

  3. here’s my philosophy: promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate. it’s simple, clean fun. and we need more of it :)

    1. Just because you think it, doesn’t mean you have to say it, right? Move the ball forward. Good to see you, jessica!

  4. Geoff,

    How much attention is given to the “boy who cried wolf?” Look for the sliver lining in the black cloud instead of finding the the cloud surrounding it.

    Whining and complaining gets tiresome very quickly. People may listen but do they really hear?


  5. Negative energy is toxic and there is only so much people can take before they get tired of it and want some fresh air.

    It is ok to rant here and there, especially if it is about real problems and you share real solutions, but you have to mix it up a bit,

    1. I think it’s really the fringe, the less engaged audiences that are first to turn away and seek that fresh air as you say. The negative voice doesn’t see it because they are being rallied on by supporters.

  6. Hi Geoff,

    I have to go against the grain here & say, I completely disagree with your theory. Not trying to be a downer, seriously. Let me explain.

    On a micro level, my blog could be the exact entity you describe. I’m pretty rant-y, negative, angry, & dismayed over society as a whole, & I talk about that a lot. But I’m not seeing the downward spiral you describe. On the contrary, I’m gaining a following of those “like-minded” individuals you describe, along with compliments for saying aloud what many people are actually thinking (you were one of those people). I think there is certainly a place for the person who brings a dash of cold water to an otherwise politically correct & thus stifling atmosphere.

    On a macro level, think of the biggest names you know in the world of commentators. One extreme would be Rush; the other would be Michael Moore. These guys do nothing BUT gush about the bad things. And because they are known for this, they each pick up their own loads of followers / fans. I do not mean to in any way imply I could ever be on par with this level of celebrity. But I do think it bears considering that perhaps the haters are better at getting listened to than the person who quietly & politely sits in the back saying meekly, “erm, excuse me, gentlemen…”

    I do agree that if complaints are offered up obnoxiously (such as is the case for my own blog), solutions should be given as well. Most of my rants about society do not provide suggestions for how to fix the problem. That is perhaps something I need to consider for future posts. Maybe. When I’m not ranting though, as in my recent series on how to Unspam Triberr, I *DO* offer possible ways to make repairs. I guess the difference lies in whether or not I’m trying to “take up the mantle” as you suggest, making something my own personal cause or pet project, versus just complain about crap in general.

    1. Hey Andi!

      Thanks so much for coming by and sharing your experience.

      I’d like to share mine rather than debate the theory or data, which shows majorities and minorities (Vocal minorities are often self supporting in this sense).

      I was a very popular blogger who went negative about 4 years ago, sharing what I thought. These call-outs and thoughts made me even more popular and well liked, so so I thought. But as I continued over time (say two years ago), I became increasingly isolated from the top tier of bloggers, and then readers. By the time I reached life one year ago, my blog was pretty dismally visited.

      Other factors played in, including distribution, but changing course and focusing on solutions made a big difference in turning the tide. When there is an issue (like this post, for example), being measured in tone and pointing out a solution (as you noted) without calling people out, helped, too

      I can’t say where your journey will lead you, but that was my experience.

  7. Serial anything gets grating after a while. But to your response to @theworld4realz:disqus, where you mention you changed lanes because you “became isolated from the top tier bloggers” – perhaps the goal isn’t to be nice to be part of that pack, whatever that pack looks like, but to be yourself and attract the readers you truly want, versus those you think you need?

    1. Actually, my goal is to attract Fortune 500 level and other premium level clients. When I was calling out bloggers these guys would ask me why I was doing that, and in some cases told me they couldn’t do business with me or my friends because of this kind of discourse.

      As to “be nice to be part of that pack” I’d ask you to not put words in my mouth.

      I’m not trying to be part of the in crowd, Danny. I’m trying to be mindful in the way I present topics. As I said in this post responding to the nice criticism (https://geofflivingston.com/2012/12/07/restraint-of-tongue-and-pen/), if I can’t make a point without taking someone’s head off, then my writing skills are lacking. Civility, mindful speech and decency in discourse are worthy goals and shouldn’t be dismissed as being “nice,” in my opinion.

        1. Now I feel like a dolt! LOL.

          I guess I’m sensitive to this particular criticism because it’s a harder narrower path for me to walk. For my part I hope to not talk about this again for a good long while. It’s time to walk the talk rather than blog about it. Let the work stand or fail on its own.
          Cheers, and merry Christmas.

  8. I think a little negativity here and there is acceptable as that’s human nature. However, I can’t stand “debbie-downers” and there’s a few that grate my nerves online. I usually “ignore” or “unsubscribe” from these peeps if the moans and groans continue on and on. On the flip-side, I also can’t stand the “rainbows and unicorns” type either! Has to be somewhere in the middle!

    1. One of the things I lament about the loss of journalistic integrity with the rise of blogs and the destruction of editorial staffs is the ability to provide both sides of the story, at least a little conjecture. Instead everything seems to be an impassioned pitch, or polarized (positive or negative). It makes all information somewhat more questionable. Thanks for the comment!

  9. This post is terrible. I hate my car. Instagram has ruined my life!
    Agreed Geoff. I think the same can be said for people who post nothing but rainbows and butterflies. Be real. Be useful. Contribute something of value.

  10. I do believe there is a difference between ‘feeling positive and writing negative’ and ‘feeling negative and writing negative’.
    Your inner state might shine through in what you write. Meaning ‘body language’ is even detectable through a blog.
    Where in the former you can have a (reasonable) successful blog and in the later you won’t…

    But that’s just a guess…

    1. I do agree with that, though I think there is some merit in faking it until you make it. Basically, you have to act your way into positive thinking by doing esteemable things. I don’t believe you can think your way there.

  11. I’ve seen this happen time and again in the original social media – forums. The persistent malcontent meets with instigation and flame-baiting, before being ostracized and banned outright.

    What I’d like to know is where on the (de-)evolutionary timeline did it become socially acceptable to point out the faults – real or imagined – of others as a means of proving one’s self right?

  12. Livingston, like all liberals who live their mainstream orthodoxies, attacks Christian fundamentalism but hasn’t a word for the truly frightening extremism of Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist fundamentalism. Why is that? Is it because of his “civility, mindful speech and decency in discourse”? No. It is because Christians are an easy target because they take it and the others, well we know all about the Perpetually Pissed-Off Muslims (talk about Serial Complainers and unhappy people) and what they always threaten to do. Or is it because it might “isolate you from the “top-tier” of bloggers”, Livingston? Sheesh!

    1. Actually, being raised as a Jew and having the local Christians paint Swastikas on my door, beat my sister and I up every week, and regularly knife my families car made me see that Christian fundamentalism is real and dangerous. I have been clear that you could swap our Christian for Islamic or any other brand of fundamentalism, but you can’t sway me off the easy target because I have experienced it here in the United States. Cheers.

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