“Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.”
- Dale Carnegie
Complaints commonly fill our heads, our days and our lives:
- I dread walking into this stupid meeting.
- I don’t want to be here.
- I can’t stand being with her like this.
- I can’t believe I have to wait here for another hour.
- I hate this traffic.
How does it feel when you think those thoughts? Perhaps powerless, frustrated, upset, unappreciated, or trapped?
What do all complaints have in common?
What is happening in the present?
What is happening in the past or future?
Each complaint has two parts. The first part is the truth of what is already happening.
- You are already walking into that meeting.
- You are here.
- You are with her.
- You are waiting.
- You are stuck in traffic.
And the second part of a complaint. Here you express your dissatisfaction with the present moment.
But, of course, it’s too late to change it. It’s already in progress.
Thus, of course, you feel:
Powerless, frustrated, upset, unappreciated, trapped
We’ve been trained to see this lashing out and complaining as a powerful response. But, it’s not. It’s simply a place to get stuck and wallow.
The typical approach to complaints is predictable: feel dissatisfaction, then complain. Is this any different than a baby’s reactions?
I’m hungry! Waaaaaah.
There is another way. There is a point of power.
What if instead you stopped before reacting and complaining, and took a different course?
When you feel dissatisfied, what if you started with fully noticing what is true, now?
The powerful response is based completely in acknowledging reality first. Before proceeding, here you can pause in gratitude and awe. This step helps you appreciate the unique value of this moment, the magic that brings people together in this time and place, and the brief time you have on the planet. It helps you take the long view and puts small problems in perspective.
From there, you can consider what is best to do now. You can also use this discomfort as a sign that you could explore the past and future to consider what you can do differently.
Instead of zooming straight from dissatisfaction to complaint, try this alternative path.
Step-by-Step Alternative to Complaining
I dread walking into this meeting.
Step 1: Notice the feelings generated by the thought.
Uneasiness. Feeling unworthy. Upset with others.
Step 2: Acknowledge the reality now.
- You are walking into this meeting.
- You’re not as prepared as you wanted to be.
- But, you can’t change that now.
Step 3: Choose gratitude and awe now.
- What can you appreciate and be in awe of now?
- What magic brings you together for this hour, here and now?
- What a gift it is to be alive and have fulfilling, challenging work to do!
Step 4: Determine what is best to do now.
- What can you do to make this the best meeting possible?
- How can you honor yourself and the people you will spend this time with?
- How can you savor this hour and this experience?
Step 5: Consider the past.
- What led you into this situation?
- What could you have done to be more prepared?
- Did you commit to doing more than you actually can do?
- Did you say yes, when you meant no?
- Or, were there circumstances beyond your control?
Step 6: Consider the future.
- If you want to feel satisfied walking into the next meeting, what could you do to make that happen?
- What do you need to accept?
- What do you need to change?
Step 7: Peace of mind check
Usually, you’ll feel immediately better! At this point, you should be chuckling! If you’re still feeling dissatisfied, focus on now first. Later, try the steps again.
When you take a complaint and stop it in its tracks, you avoid the negative feelings. Instead, you have a proven method for examining and moving forward. You feel powerful, calm, appreciative of yourself and others, more understanding, and liberated to accept things as they are and make needed changes.
- For the next few days, make a note of any complaints that surface in your own thoughts or words. Notice what is already true.
- After observing complaints for a few days, use the step-by-step process to work through complaints that surface for you.
- End with a peace of mind check. And finally notice, do you feel more powerful when you complain or when you fully analyze the complaint?
- Do your analysis with a light and curious attitude. Be gentle with yourself. Try to avoid using “should”. Use “could” instead. Enjoy the process!
“It’s my belief we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain.”
- Lily Tomlin, comedienne
“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.”
- Benjamin Franklin