The Art of Complaining: How Complaints Can be Good for Business

We often don’t get our way at work.

Someone says something we don’t like… The project goes a way we don’t agree with… Decisions are made that impact employees that they think aren’t in their best interest.

What do most of us do with that?

We complain! Usually to anyone who will listen, and especially to those who will agree with us and solidify our justified opinion. That can kill a workplace culture, and with it, the results we produce.

Complaints are natural — they are a signal that something doesn’t align with our values. They can be a useful tool, but not if they stay in the form of a complaint.

Here’s my method for transforming a complaint into something useful:

When you find you have a complaint, first take a look at these steps:

1. COMPLAINT: Identify what the actual complaint is. Reduce it to the most fundamental piece without a lot of story or explanation.

2. CLARITY: Determine if you are willing to address the situation productively to make a change. Be honest with yourself about this — if you’d rather just complain about it or feel victimized, the rest of these steps won’t make a difference.

3. COMPLETION: Write out all you are angry about with the intention of letting it go. Often we find other people to take our complaints to, but we actually use those people to reinforce or justify our position. Stop doing that — it’s not productive. Instead, take it out on a sheet of paper. Say everything there is to say, nastiness included. Address the subject of your complaint directly or talk about them — but get it all out. When you’ve said every last morsel, destroy the paper, it’s not to secretly be left where someone could find it.
Check to see if you are now able to let the thing go — as in, you’re not going to burden yourself by carrying it around anymore. You have forgiven who/what there was to forgive and you can let it be.

4. CONTRIBUTION: From this new place of being Complete, see what the message is that you were carrying inside your complaint. Chances are, the event got your hackles up for a reason. Do you have a safety concern? Do you feel there has been unfair treatment that, if rectified, could benefit the company and its employees? What is the contribution you have to make to someone or some situation? You may find, once you have gotten the frustration out in the previous step that there is nothing to say any longer — that’s fine. But if you do still have something to say, you can say it from a neutral place, without the clouding of anger or righteousness. You’ll be amazed how much better people can hear you from there!

Practice these steps on small things first, so you can gain facility with it when it comes to bigger things.

How different would your workplace be if people were productive in the way they managed complaints?!