How to Complain Well

You probably have heard someone complain today, in your home, on the elevator or as you walk down the street, we hear complaints every day. There are such negative connotations to the word “complain” and though it is defined as: to express dissatisfaction or annoyance about something, we can’t fix problems if we don’t bring them up.

So what is a healthy way to bring up issues and complain?

Types of complainers

Psychologists have broken down complaining into three categories. The first is chronic complainers; they focus on problems over progress. Research has suggested that chronic complaining can re-wire the brain so that type of thinking becomes ingrained.

The second type is described as venting. This is when someone is expressing emotional frustration. When people vent they are focused on themselves and are looking for validation through attention and sympathy as a way to deal with anger, disappointment or stress.

The big problem with chronic complaining and venting is that it has long term effects. Research has shown that it both dampens the complainers’ mood, making them feel worse, but also makes others feel worse as well.

Now the last type of complaining is the good kind and called the “instrumental complaint.” Its goal is to solve problems. This is important because we all come across problems and valid concerns so the way we react to them and express them to others can have a huge impact.

Complaint skills

Instrumental complaining can improve relationships if done well and can lead to increased self-awareness. It can be a challenge to navigate the conversation when you bring up a complaint with someone, even when you’re trying to have a constructive discussion. When you start with potential solutions in mind and the desire to make things better, you give hope, and this allows the conversation to move forward in a positive way. Complaining well can be a useful skill for both your personal life and your work environment. So how do you do it? Here are a few tips:

  • complain only occasionally to prevent ruining your mood
  • have potential solutions ready for discussion
  • use complaints in situations where it can help make changes
  • determine if some other strategy would work instead of complaining
  • keep chronic complainers out of your life as much as possible

We all complain, but being self-aware about the impact different types of complaining have, as well as utilizing instrumental complaining, can help you have stronger relationships of all sorts.

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