How often does it happen that you want to communicate a need, and emotions like frustration, anger, and disappointment take over? Leaving you complaining to express that need. It could be at work, with your partner, or with your children.
Our brain seems to be hardwired to communicate our needs through complaints, for example:
- Why haven’t you turned in that report yet?
- You’re always on your phone and you never pay attention to me.
- How many times do I have to tell you to do the dishes?
- This is room is a mess. Tidy it up now!
If we take the phone example, the need is for connection. If we were to express the same need in a different way, for example, I would love to spend some time with you. Could we have dinner without looking at our phones? This is a request. We are expressing the same need, yet the outcome for this scenario will be much different.
The recipient doesn’t feel attacked. On the other hand, they might even find it endearing. Their presence is missed, and they feel love.
Language matters. When I say language I include body language, as well as tone and your choice of words. We often overlook how very important it is to be more selective with how we choose to communicate something that will actually get us to the outcome we are looking for.
Why do we complain?
Complaints are made because we wish for something that is not being met. There is an underlying disappointment and a growing frustration that what we want is being neglected. The problem is a complaint not only doesn’t solve the problem, it usually makes it worse.
Complaining as a pattern undermines teams, and in a relationship hurts the bond. We tend to use language like always, never, nothing, and everything. These exaggerated words have a negative impact.
We fuse the person and problem and directly attack them both. The recipient of the complaint tends to defend and the argument escalates and leaves both parties feeling unsatisfied.
Complaints keep you focused on the past and not building or exploring possibilities for the future.
The antidote to complaints
To get your needs met, and get more collaboration from others we can turn complaints into requests with a positive need and reasoning behind them.
Let’s break this formula down. First, we have the request. To create a request we need a soft start-up:
- Could you…?
- Would you…?
- Is it possible…?
Then we add the positive need and the reasoning. In this portion, it’s important to not focus on the past but to be forward facing. The reasoning is important because it clarifies to the recipient why we want this need met.
This will make our request even more effective and create motivation in our recipients to fulfill our needs. For example, if I ask you “Please open the window”, it is not as powerful as asking, “Can you please open the window, because it feels quite stuffy and I would love some fresh air?”
Now, to review making a complaint into a request. Let’s start with a complaint first.
- There’s never any paper for the printer.
We have a problem: a lack of paper being ordered to print. The need is for someone to order paper. This complaint points fingers, makes people feel bad and gets you nowhere.
Let’s turn into a request:
- Would you please order paper for the printer so we don’t run out?
It was polite, it expressed a positive need and reasoning. The problem is solved and no one is blamed.
The Power of Requests
At work and in your home this can be a big game changer for your relationships. It is very difficult to break out of old habits and patterns, yet the rewards to reap are amazing.
When we turn complaints into actionable requests we empower those around us to meet our needs with positive language and attitude.
The next time you feel like making a complaint we encourage you to pause, reflect and find the best way to turn it into a request.
When our requests are met both parties leave the interaction with a better feeling, and feeling good is what rewires our brain to repeat an action again.
Could you try to make a request next time you feel like complaining so that you can see a positive impact on your relationships?
Psychologist and Emotional Intelligence Coach