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Planning Retirement Online

How to grumble gracefully

February 2005 


Heather Redmond

How to grumble gracefully

Heather Redmond continues her thoughts on listening and being listened to…

Mustn’t grumble they say, in their elderly way. Elderly women with bowed backs mainly. Elderly men as well, sometimes. They moan away about their lot with delicious abandon, knowing they can salvage their pride at the end with the ‘mustn’t grumble there’s always someone worse off’ mantra. A catch-all phrase to excuse their wilder excesses.

 It’s good to grumble I tell them. Go on, grumble away. Get it off your chest.


Well why not? It isn’t every day you can nobble a sympathetic listener, I think to myself, as I make all the right noises and smile and nod my head and encourage them to excess. I’m a great listener and they become great grumblers.

So why doesn’t it work the other way round? Why, when I go into my ‘ain’t it awful’ routine, do I get the glazed look? It’s not that I want a lot of sympathy. All I am asking for is a bit of air space.
So why remind me of good things when I just want to rant about bad things? I don’t need telling about people worse off than me. I know all that stuff. I just want some comforting grunts of agreement and the occasional ‘there there’.

Is it only ‘old folks’ who have permission to grouse and groan
and is it patronising to listen and nod and smile when their moans are repetitive and boring?
I don’t think so. I’m providing a sort of social service, a sort of voluntary ‘scratching post’ for needy whingers who have no one else to turn to.

It is thought by some in the therapy business, that grumbling is therapeutic; they call it ventilating your feelings, a posh title that makes it a good thing to do. Except it isn’t always a good thing. A little ventilation goes a long way. Too much of it, and you are in danger of wearing a depressing groove in the brain - a groove that can sabotage the gleam of tentative optimism when life gets a little better. Trust me, I’ve done it.

Over the years, with psychotherapy and cognitive counselling, I’ve had some of my grooves smoothed and flattened out. Now relatively groove-free, I just want to indulge in the occasional grand grumble. Except that it doesn’t seem an OK thing to do, and few people know how to cope or indeed how to listen.
With luck I get a few minutes from the people around me.

But then the advice-and-rescue mode intrudes. It’s ‘Have you thought of….’ Or ‘Oh that happened to me…..’ and they’re off and running and I grit my teeth and roll my eyes.

So what stops me grabbing it back? What stops me telling them - excuse me, but it’s my turn?
Because I’m paranoid about becoming a bore.
So I’ve been thinking: how to make it a great (even fun) experience for grumbler and listener alike?

Amazon book - Nothing to complain about. The art of needless grumblingFirst rule of thumb is to amuse. Stand-up comics are the best grumblers on the planet. They rant about everything under the sun and make us laugh. Do it funny and you get smiles and attention.
Second rule is to be completely egocentric while you’ve claimed your air space. Never mind about being boring. Think about all the times you’ve had to listen to other people’s stuff. Time to call in a favour.

Third rule: state very firmly at the outset that you’re in moaning mode and want five minutes, or five hours, of their time. Their agreement gives you the right to stop them in their tracks if they utter more than small sighs of sympathy.

And lastly, if you really want to boost your confidence, play the deprecation game. People’s knee-jerk reaction to self-deprecation is reassurance. You are great, wonderful, and no, absolutely not boring. You will get reassurance in spades. Until they suss your game, that is.



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