Shift a Complaint

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There are many complaints in the work place, at home, and in the world these days. We love to complain about the economy, government, politics, the price of gas, the weather, or our boss, a project deadline, our homes, our neighbors, and even our partners. Let’s face it, it’s easy to complain and there is no shortage of opportunities.

The problem with complaining is that when we do it, we become the victim of whatever/whoever we are complaining about – we give up all our power to it/them. Furthermore, a good juicy complaint is like a virus – it spreads through the workplace, the home, social networks, and the media like wild fire. If not stopped, complaining creates a culture of powerless, unhappy, groaning victims. Yuck! Not innovative, productive, or much fun to be around.

When working with clients, I help them shift from complaining mode, to action mode through a two-step process. Behind every complaint is a hidden (and perhaps unidentified) request. If you find yourself complaining; 1) take a time-out and ask, “What do I want?”, and 2) see if there is a request you can make to get it.

shift a complaint sadFor example, suppose you have a co-worker who always leaves their dirty coffee mug in the lunchroom. Instead of complaining to others about him/her, find out what you want (for them to stop that behavior, or you simply want a clean kitchen), then make a simple request to that person; “Excuse me, would you mind putting your mug in the dishwasher when you are done with it? It would really help to keep the kitchen clean. Thanks!” Another option might be to post a sign by the sink requesting everyone cleans their dishes.

Clean, clear, and simple. When we make a request and take action we take back our power. We are no longer a victim of the person with the dirty coffee cup. We also prevent the complaint from running rampant in our community and have likely taken care of a problem that others complained about as well.

When making a request to someone, keep in mind there are three possible responses, all of which you must be prepared to accept:

  1. Yes, I accept your request
  2. No, I do not accept, or
  3. Some compromise

It can be helpful to let the person you are making the request to know they have these options. This is important, since a request made without a choice is really just a demand, and nobody likes those. Also, be sure to make the request to someone who has the ability to take action, otherwise it’s just wasted time and will likely lead to more complaining.

Lastly, if you hear someone else complaining, ask them if they have a request they would like to make (of you, or someone else). Give them the opportunity to take charge – and prevent yourself from complaining about how much they complain!

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On January 30, 2012
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