Turn Complaints into Requests


candleTalane Miedaner is the owner and founder of Talane Coaching Company and the author of “Coach Yourself to Success,” a book on how to achieve what you want. She provides over 100 tips on how to be happier and more successful.

In her chapter on how to “Communicate with Power, Grace and Style,” Miedaner delivers a formula that may change your life. She starts out by stating a fact of life: “No one is attractive when complaining. No one – not even you, my dear.” She has a real point. Most of us hate to be on the receiving end of a complaint. At the same time, many of us don’t recognize ourselves as chronic complainers. Here’s her way out of the rut, whether you’re receiving or complaining.

Miedaner offers this piece of wisdom: every time you complain, there is somewhere, somehow, a solution to your problem. “Traffic is terrible every morning on my drive to work – I hate my commute.” What would make that problem change? “I’d like to be able to leave for work an hour later, when traffic is much better.” So what request would you like to make to your boss?

What a concept. Instead of simply complaining, figure out what it is that you’d like to request. “I’d like it if you could pick up after yourself without being asked.” “I wish you’d listen without interrupting me.” “I wish I could get more thanks from my boss for the work I do.” If you’re committed to stopping yourself from complaining, you may even get your friends and family to help prompt you. When you get started on a complaint, ask them to interrupt you gently with, “What’s the request you’d really like to make?”

It sounds so simple, but of course, in practice, it’s much harder. One reason that it’s hard is that we love to complain. Whining to a sympathetic friend is one of life’s free pleasures; asking your boss or your spouse to make a change is hard. And there are some of us (you know who you are) who actually enjoy the complaining more than you would enjoy the change. In that case, I’ll refer you to the ancient Chinese proverb: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

If you want to light a candle (i.e. turn a complaint into a request), you have to do some thinking about what it is you’re requesting, and from whom. Let’s take the example of the terrible commute above. You have a couple of options to solve that problem. You could make the commute less stressful by listening to great music or books on tape. In that instance, you may not be making a request of anyone, unless you ask for help picking up and returning library books on tape. You could choose to leave for work an hour earlier each day, which might mean asking for a shift in hours at work (from your boss) or a change in the morning household routine (spouse and family members.)

For any request, there are three possible outcomes, writes Miedaner. The person can accept your request, decline it, or make a counter offer. You might have to do some negotiating to get to a solution that works for you and the other person. Negotiation can be an opportunity to talk through issues and build a deeper and better relationship. Or it can result in uncovering some deep divides in your values or attitudes about the issue.

In that case, you may have something to complain about.

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