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Bellyaching

By Chuck Violand

January 28, 2019

The subject of company culture has gotten lots of attention in recent years, for good reason. Research points out the connection between a healthy company culture and its financial performance. Companies with healthy cultures also seem to be more fun places to work. As a business advisor, I can tell you they’re a lot more fun to work with.

An expression you don’t hear much anymore is that of bellyaching. I remember it being used a lot more when I was a kid, and I’m sure I did more than my share of practicing it. I can remember my father telling me to stop my bellyaching whenever I was asked to mow the lawn, scrub a floor, or do just about any chore. As a kid, I did so much bellyaching that my parents must have thought I had a chronic gastrointestinal problem!

Bellyaching comes in lots of different forms, including complaining, negative tones in our comments, sarcasm, and the most dangerous of all—cynicism.

Every day, garden variety bellyaching (the kind we did as kids) is relatively harmless when it comes to affecting a company’s culture. “It’s too hot.” “It’s too cold.” “When will it stop raining?” “When will it start raining?” We all have complaints from time to time, and while they might temporarily affect the mood in the office or the warehouse, they don’t normally have a permanent affect on the company’s culture.

It’s when bellyaching moves beyond occasional grumbling to become chronic and widespread that it becomes dangerous and needs to be addressed. Here’s why.

Bellyaching is like a vacuum. It sucks the creativity and joy out of the work we do that we thought we enjoyed. With their constant complaining, a good bellyacher can convince us that work is no longer pleasant or fulfilling.

Bellyaching is a jailer. It imprisons us in the fog of negativity it creates and convinces us there’s no hope for improvement. It blinds us.

Bellyaching can grow into a cancer. Is the bellyaching we’re hearing just a short-term complaint, the ordinary grumblings of someone who has to perform an unpleasant task, or has it become chronic, working its way into the everyday interactions of others?

When left unchecked, bellyaching can lead to sarcasm and cynicism that undermines and destroys a company’s culture.

Bellyaching is to a company what barnacles are to a boat. They destroy it subtly and slowly. Just like barnacles, bellyachers love company, and they don’t survive long in an environment where they’re not supported by other bellyachers. And just like barnacles, bellyachers attract other bellyachers. Before you know it, you’ve got a whole company of bellyachers that even a giant bottle of Tums can’t touch.

If the concerns of the bellyacher can’t be addressed, or if the bellyacher isn’t willing to change, they need to be removed.

If you’ve found yourself doing more than your fair share of bellyaching lately, let me suggest a New Year’s resolution that’s guaranteed to start the year off right and then continue to pay dividends throughout: stop your bellyaching and focus on solutions instead. To paraphrase author Richard Rohr, if we don’t transform our bellyaching, we most assuredly will transmit it.