“I’m Not Complaining—I’m Explaining”… Are You Sure?

This past week, I was listening in a call between a client and her employee. In response to my client’s question regarding why her employee had—essentially—dropped the ball the employee said,

“Well, my mother-in-law is here so there’s been a lot more chaos in the house and with all the extra work we’ve had recently it’s been hard to keep up… I’m not complaining I’m explaining.”

Hhmmmm… I’m picking up a little complaining. How about you?

To clarify my thinking, I double-checked the derivation of both words in the dictionary.

To explain is to make (an idea, situation, or problem) clear to someone by describing it in more detail or revealing relevant facts or ideas.

To complain is to express dissatisfaction or annoyance about something.

As you can see, the employee in question may have begun by explaining but managed to drop a complaint in there as well.

Why am I talking about this today?

Because—when problem solving—it’s important to tease these two elements apart so you don’t end up solving for the wrong equation.

In the above situation, it would have been easy for my client to get caught up in the mother-in-law conversation; to begin asking questions along the lines of, “How long will she be staying? Is there a way you can step away from the chaos?” etc.

A closer listen, however, showed that the mother-in-law portion was, in fact, explanation—it gave detail—but there was an embedded complaint. The employee felt there had been a lot more work recently.

Once we began solving for the actual problem—rather than the explanation—we cleared things up quickly.

So the next time you hear someone saying, “Oh, I’m not complaining—just explaining!” take a moment… It’s frequently a low-stakes way for people to disguise their gripes.

But if you tease the complaining apart from the explaining you’ll be closer to a solution.


For more on the value of having difficult conversations, take a look at “The Importance of a Full Fat Life”