Crying Baby by bbaunach

Photo by bbaunach in Flickr

From the time we’ve been babies, we’ve been asking for things. Likely, the more we got, the more we expected. Then, when we didn’t get what we knew was possible and what we wanted—we would cry. While we rarely cry at work now, we do complain.

I heard myself last week offering my definition of a “grounded” complaint with a client. The idea is that we waste energy complaining on our own and in groups when a complaint may not even be valid. Nearly all complaints dwelled upon are destructive in some way.

During the week I had my own simple complaints about a head cold, inconsistent wifi, and a snow storm that plagued my travel decisions. I also complained to myself about myself. Feeling the time pressure to produce in a client session. A missed opportunity with a client trying to reach me. And, a forgotten task that put some work this week under new challenges. Life at work, in travel, and at home was just not what I anticipated and wanted. And, my complaints didn’t make me feel better.

In reflection on my client discussion, I checked out the definition of a complaint. Here’s what I found in Merriam-Webster:

  • An expression of grief, pain, or dissatisfaction. 
  • Something that is the cause of protest or outcry.
  • A formal allegation against a party.

In my definition, a “grounded” complaint is one for which we have a clear expectation or agreement that has been broken. It’s a complaint that has a foundation for clear action. If no prior agreement, then a dissatisfaction should more likely generate a new request.

But, that’s not how much of our complaining goes. Much of our complaining is circular and escalating, bad feelings seeping into our individual or collective mood—infecting our day. As humans, we spend so much energy resisting what we cannot change or influence.

There is no perfection, only reality against a preferred or desired experience or outcome. I have no client for whom their world is logical, reasoned, and efficient—let alone exactly as they wish. Not one organization. So, don’t despair about your own world; the next one just has different potential dissatisfactions.

Being practical, our  human experience will be likely filled with complaints, grounded and ungrounded. So, here’s a suggestion on what to do the next time you find yourself complaining (alone or with others).

  1. Crystallize your complaint. What exactly is your dissatisfaction?
  2. Determine whether you had any clear expectation set or have an agreement broken.
  3. Ask, what do I want-exactly?
  4. Turn the complaint into action. Ask, what can I request? What feedback might move the action, with whom? If I can’t make a change, how can I influence movement in my preferred direction?

If in a group, and you find yourself sinking or soaring in the feeling of complaint, stop and ask the group the same questions. But beware, we are even more attached to complaints validated by a others, particularly when we can point a finger to “the organization” or “senior management or the partners or owner” or ” human resources or finance or IT, and on and on.”  The more generalized and or global the offending party, the harder it is to take any action.

Children don’t complain, they either ask for something again or they whine. Where is your complaining more like whining than a push to new action or resolution? See if you can stop yourself this week before you sink your mood and the mood of others for little benefit. I’ll do the same.