Catalyze Complaints: Turn Your Complaints (and Others’) into Coping, Calm, or Conquest

If your days are anything like mine, it’s possible that you run through a daily internal—or external—litany of complaints… your job is making you nutty, your family is unappreciative, your finances… enough said.

Alternatively, you might have someone in your life whose complaints swirl around you like snowflakes or catch you like an icy wind on the back of your neck.

What to do—particularly on days when you’re feeling more fed up than usual?

Well, this past week I took an online course called “The Cure for Complaining” and it offered the following, valuable insights:

First, we were asked to notice what we complain about… did we have themes? Or were our complaints situation-specific pop-ups?

After that, we were asked to consider the complaining of those around us. Were there complaints that made us look for the nearest exit? Was there complaining that we actually found soothing—because others were taking the words out of our mouths?

As you can imagine, there was a smorgasbord of options to discuss.

After additional investigation, however, we noticed that complaints tend to fall into three buckets:  having values violated, feeling unappreciated, and feeling powerless.

What did these sound like?

First, values. If—for example—being on time was a strong value then late people and projects caused that person to be crabby. If kindness was strongly valued, rudeness set them off, etc.

Next, appreciation. If—for example—someone had stayed late to finish a report for their boss and he threw it on a stack of stuff in his in box without looking at it… well, that was triggering. If someone had spent the day cooking and their family decided they’d rather order pizza… well, cue a lack-of-appreciation complaint.

As for me, while it used to be that having a flight cancelled was my nadir of feeling powerless, with *everything * cancelled who doesn’t feel powerless right now?

So, what to do?

The recommendation we were given—and that I have found shockingly useful—is to start listening for the type of complaint you, or another, is expressing and then (gasp) ask for what you need instead.

What might this sound like?

Well, in the case of a value-driven complaint, it might sound like, “I value promptness, so late arrivals and late reports aren’t acceptable.”

Crazy right? But oddly empowering.

In the case of appreciation, it might sound like, “I need you to notice—and appreciate—that I stayed late in order to get that report in on time.” 

What to do about complaints rooted in powerlessness?

Well, as noted earlier, there are some times that complaining and/or listening to others complain is actually, oddly, soothing. This usually occurs around actual powerlessness (as opposed to perceived powerlessness—a blog post for another time.)

My advice when this is in play? Alert those around you that you recognize that nothing can be done—and that the greatest kindness they can show you is to listen.


For more on the value of speaking from your values, take a look at, “Strike While the Iron is Cold: Using Non-Violent Communication to Change Your Life”