Monday, September 19, 2011

Complain to Win—Not to Feel Worse

I have been known to complain...yes, it has happened.  As I was reading the article that is linked below, I was struck by the simplicity of the comment, "The first step to effective complaining is deciding if you truly want a concrete result or if you just need emotional validation".  I never thought about how important that concept is.  
Below is a short part of this excellent article from Psychology Today called "The Art of Influence".  If you get the chance to read the whole article, I highly suggest it.  I have highlighted the part on the "art of proper complaining", but the other sections on "motivating others", and "how to be a great leader" are very helpful as well.
Kvetch, Bitcher, Debbie Downer: No one likes a chronic complainer, and we've got multiple derogatory terms to prove it. But if you master the art of effective complaining, you'll get what you want while carping less often, says Guy Winch, Ph.D., author of The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, and Enhance Self-Esteem.
Complaining at inappropriate times (when other people are in the spotlight, for example, or when they are focused on issues bigger than yours) can make you look selfish and could further prevent you from being heard. And complaining excessively about one situation can snowball into rumination—anxious and repetitive thoughts that trigger depression.
The first step to effective complaining, then, is deciding if you truly want a concrete result or if you just need emotional validation. The former calls for a complaint; the latter, a vent. Ideally, your interlocutor should know that as well, since trying to "fix" a problem someone else just wants to cry about can cause a meta-argument worse than the original annoyance.
If you decide you want to lodge a complaint, make a plan, says Winch. First, determine exactly what you want to achieve (don't let someone else pick a reparation). Then, figure out who has the ability to provide what you want, and finally, ascertain the best way to get that person to give it to you. Though it's all very logical, in the heat of frustration people usually lash out at the first body in sight. Winch recommends moving from the easiest complaint to the hardest when working on problem-solving skills.
When people receive a grievance, they naturally grow defensive. They might even throw the issue back at you, further dialing up your emotions. That's why you need to be extra nice, against your instincts. "This is the existential dilemma of the complaint," Winch says. "Do you want to be right, or do you want to get a good result?"
One way to avert the downward spiral of defensiveness is to make what Winch calls a "complaint sandwich." The top slice of bread—the first thing you should write in a letter or say to a person—is the "ear-opener," which prevents the target of your complaint from feeling attacked. The "meat" of the sandwich is the specific complaint or request for redress, and the bottom slice is the "digestive," or a positive, grateful statement reinforcing the idea that you are a reasonable person worthy of help.
After suffering through months of loud construction from a building site near his apartment, Winch delivered a complaint sandwich to his landlord. He started off by saying how much he loves the building and appreciates the great job the management company does. Then he asked for a decrease in his rent, in order to make up for the blow to his productivity as a writer, caused by the incessant noise. Finally, he added that he understood that the noise was in no way the landlord's fault, but thought he would be concerned about its effect on his tenants. The result? A rent reduction for six months.