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How Complaining is like Body Odor

Let’s talk about B.O.

Body Odor.

We’ve all encountered that person who emanates an unpleasant smell.

We think they really should be bathing more or washing their clothes or changing their diet.

We wonder why they don’t notice their own smell.

We are uncomfortable saying anything about it and notice that others around them also don’t say anything.

We wonder if anyone else notices since no one is saying anything.

Then someone in the group references it when the offender isn’t around and everyone jumps in and comments on it. It becomes clear that multiple people have a problem with it but still no one is willing to say anything because it seems rude.

We note that their smell didn’t used to be so bad but something changed and it’s gotten worse but they don’t seem to notice.

We start to pull away, not wanting to spend too much time with them or get too close. When we talk with the group we learn we’re not the only ones doing this.

Still we don’t tell that person why.


When someone is a chronic complainer we do the same things.

I wonder: Why is it a more acceptable social norm to slowly disappear from someone’s life than to tell them directly that something they’re doing is pushing people away?

Many chronic complainers don’t know that they’re doing it or recognize the extent to which they complain. They don’t know why people pull away from them. Over time they can feel isolated or excluded – and this is another source of complaint.

If you care about them, find a way to engage them in a conversation where you can share the impact their complaining has on you. This is not about telling them how they’re wrong. Act in the spirit of repairing the relationship and hopefully they’ll be open to the conversation.

It’s better than just leaving with no explanation.

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