“It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.” – Confucius
Whining. Griping. Grumbling. Or other words we could use.
Ever so common, and so easy to fall into. Also just as easy to get reactionary or defensive to the whine itself – or even slip into a bit of a pity party. Ooh, not so pretty.
Smart leaders, though, know that behind every complaint is actually an unfulfilled request. Yes, a request. You can look at griping (even our own) as just an unskillful form of communication: someone wants something, but they just don’t know how to ask for it.
Complaints, particularly when they get personal, are just another form of blaming, one of four team behaviors to avoid. Instead of taking it personally or getting defensive, however, focusing instead on the behavior that is being requested allows for change to actually happen.
If you can find the reasonable request for behavior change underneath the complaint, you can respond directly to what’s actually being asked for, and by-pass the griping. Instead of getting snarled in a whining whirlpool, you’ll get much farther towards actually resolving the issue.
1) The next time you get a complaint – from a co-worker, your boss, your kids, your spouse, yourself – instead of giving a jerk-knee response or defending yourself, look deeper: What is this person really asking for? What is the reasonable request that is lingering below the surface?
Example complaint: Why can’t he ever start the meeting on time?
Reasonable request: I’d like to start our meetings promptly.
Example complaint: She’s so irresponsible.
Reasonable request: I’d like her to take more responsibility for this project.
Tip: If you struggle with this, look for the behavior that is being asked for within the complaint. Imagine that the person has a legitimate need, but simply doesn’t know how to ask for what they want. Once you identify it, respond to the actual request, rather than defending yourself against the complaint.
2) The next time you are inclined to complain about something or someone, see if you can instead listen for your own request that’s underneath the frustration. Try turning your own complaint into a request about the behavior you’d like to see, and notice the impact with the other person when you ask for what you actually want.
In the comments below, I’d love to hear from you. Try the suggestions above, and tell me:
1) What happened when you responded to the actual request, instead of the complaint?
2) Where else could you use this technique?
Thank you, Hanna. Well put and so important.
I just read Marshall Rosenberg’s _Living Non-violent Communication_, in which he details practical strategies for the ideas you articulate here. HIGHLY recommend it for parents, spouses, neighbors, bosses, employees, renters, landlords, and all world leaders. His simple strategies are really changing how I hear other people, and how I express myself. I have never thought of myself as a big complainer, and yet I realize how much lighter and more fun live becomes when I put these strategies into action. Everyone becomes easier to be with and more “real” when I stop hearing their complaining and focus on their reasonable requests.
Hanna Cooper says
Thanks for the comment, Hilary! Love what you’re saying about how easier, lighter, fun and REAL things can become when we use this approach – I agree!
I’ve had Rosenberg’s book on my list for awhile, so your comment reminds me I need to get a copy! : )
Thanks for stopping by!