We complain. Oh, not you, of course, just those other knuckleheads.
At work, our complaints sound like … “Bill’s cluttered workspace drives me nuts!”, “I wish Mary would stand up for herself, she makes all us women look bad.”, “The boss never says anything to the Sales guy when he’s late to meetings, but he call me on the carpet every time. I hate favoritism.” (Go on, recite your list of home-grown complaints to really get in the spirit!)
If we aren’t complaining about others, we complain about our selves: “Why do I keep saying ‘yes’ when I already have plenty to do?” “I’m such a wimp. I just shut down when it even looks like an argument’s brewing.” “Everyone expects an answer right away and I don’t work well that way. But they stand there and pressure me and that just makes it harder for me to think.” If it’s not others or ourselves, then it’s the system or the economy or something. “Do you believe it? The bridge took my bumper out!”
I don’t mind complaints. I do mind hearing the same complaint over and over and over again. I mind because I don’t like people to think they are victims.(There’s probably some other deep-seeded psychological reason, but, hey, i only have so much space here! If I had more space, i could say even more profound things. Darn limitation!) Luckily, many years ago, a colleague introduced me to 3types of complaints which ended (not entirely, of course) my days as a victim and began my reign as a champion complainer. Here’s what I learned.
Type 1. Recreational complaint. With this kind of complaint, there’s no intention to change or solve anything. There’s no request. My father-in-law in AZ complains about the weather: “It’s always blue skies. Our weather is boring!” My friend in Oregon complains: It’s another dreary day in Portland. I guess I’ll get my umbrella and take a walk.” No one takes these seriously. They can be annoying, but there’s little harm in them. They are more a conversation starter, more akin to social grease.
Type 2. Expressive complaint. Like the recreational complaint, there’s no intention to change or solve anything. There’s no request. “I can’t believe the new leader. He didn’t even send our department an invitation to the all staff meeting. He told our manager we were probably too busy because it was tax time.” There’s danger in this kind of a complaint. If this is as far as the conversation goes, it leaves both parties discouraged and in a mood of being a victim. It sucks the life out of the relationship and possibility.
Type 3. Committed complaint. Unlike the previous two types, this complaint includes a request for a change. “I am sending a request by Friday to the CEO that no department is left out of any whole staff meeting.” No victims here. Speaking that interrupts the drift of the status quo. By the way, if you are the listener of an expressive complaint, I invite you to ask the complainer, “Do you have a request?” If they look at you funny, congratulations! You’ve interrupted the nattering! As a bonus, you may have been removed from the list of people to whom they complain. Hey, I just saved you 3 hours a week of energy-sucking time!
Complain committedly. Make a request, listen for the response, (accept, decline or counteroffer). Do this and you’ll stop sounding like a victim and you’ll start complaining like the champion I know you are – a champion who chooses “make it happen” and kicks “poor me” attitude to the curb.
PS: Share the most awesome complaint you’ve heard and I’ll add it to my “Complainers Wall of Champions”!
PPS: Want to learn how to communicate more effectively, beyond just complaining like a champ? Take an online assessment and have a 1on1 coaching call with me. I promise you’ll see what to improve and have a do-able action plan to put what you learned into practice.