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How to Avoid the Perils of Commiserating


How to Avoid the Perils of Commiserating

Things at work were stressful, to put it mildly. Stupid policy changes were getting in the way of doing great work. No matter where you turned, people were talking about the new policy and not saying nice things. The CEO put out clever messaging via the standard channels, but people weren’t buying what he was selling. It was ugly.

One leader from the middle decided she was willing to step forward and speak out to spark change.

She gathered with her peers over lunch. They all agreed the new policy was detrimental to the work. They all wished that the policy would change or disappear.

She met with her team members. They vented, she let them know they were heard. She understood.

She talked to mentors, old colleagues, anyone who would listen and shared their plight. Everyone was in agreement – the policy was going to have far more cost than benefit.

Finally, there was a meeting with the CEO and the leaders who were responsible for implementing the changes. She looked around at her peers in the meeting, and they all made knowing eye contact. When a pause came, and there was a short opening for discussion, she was the only one who spoke up. Her peers were no longer making eye contact and would not risk rocking the boat.

What happened?

In every meeting, she was sure she was doing more than complaining when she raised the need for change. Everyone agreed. People threw out more and more reasons why it was the worst policy they’d seen implemented in a long time. They were on the same page… weren’t they?

Clearly not.

3 Big Perils of Commiserating – How to Avoid Them (+ Transform Them)

Commiserating leads to justification, not resolution

It feels great to have others cheer you on even when it’s encouraging you to further embrace the negativity of your circumstances. “Yeah! We were wronged!” Suddenly, everything you think about your circumstances is validated. Your negative thoughts are justified. However, you’re bonding over the problem, not the solution.

How to Create Change:

The key to overcoming this pitfall of commiseration is to transform it into collaboration. A cornerstone of collaboration is working together on a solution. Step up and into your leadership. Try:  “What do we need to do now? Let’s make it happen.”

Commiserating reinforces your powerlessness

It’s important to know that you’re not alone, but don’t let a whine-fest reinforce your powerlessness. “Why did they do this to us?” “How could they?”

How to Create Change:

Instead of wallowing in the crappiness of your situation with others who have been through the same, shift your perspective and close the window to the complaint department. Yes, things happen to us, but it’s also up to us to lead through it. Life moves forward and complaining about what others did to you only reinforces the idea that you have absolutely no power. The way you handle adversity? That’s your power. Don’t toss it out with the bathwater.

Commiserating fools you into thinking everyone’s on the same page

When everyone’s on the same page about the issue, it doesn’t mean their playbook looks the same as yours for next steps. In fact, some people don’t see any next steps. Often, the people who complain the loudest are the ones who find camaraderie in the pain – it’s serving them.

How to Create Change: 

Be explicit. Don’t assume you know how far anyone else is willing to take it. The best way to find out what someone is willing to do is to ask. Let them know that you’re not going to roll over. You all agree there are challenges and you’re willing to raise them – with potential solutions. Ask others to join you.


  • Commiserating makes you feel stuck.
  • Commiserating listens for the negative.
  • Commiserating shuts down possibilities.
  • Commiserating doesn’t create change.
  • Commiserating isn’t action focused.

You can CHOOSE to take action even in the worst circumstances. You can CHOOSE to speak up. CHOOSE to educate others, propose solutions, and continue the conversation.

Even if you discover that others are too afraid to speak up for change or openly question policies from the senior team, it doesn’t mean you have to give up too. Silly policies and decisions may not get reversed, and life not be perfect again, but you know that you tried and that matters – that’s leadership.

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