When faced with challenging situations or conflict, a natural tendency is to complain. Let’s face it—it feels good to complain. Complaining can be a good tool for effective communication when used responsibly, because it helps get to core issues. When you’re in a conversation with an employee and hear a complaint, you have the opportunity to help the individual move from a place of frustration to empowerment.
What does it mean to complain in a responsible way? Here’s the trick—as you’re listening to the person complain, acknowledge they have a complaint and invite them to continue, but put a time limit on it. For example: “I can hear that you’re frustrated and have a complaint. I’d like to hear more about what isn’t working for you. In fact, for the next two minutes, I’d like you to really express—maybe even exaggerate—your complaint.”
By encouraging complete expression of a complaint, you acknowledge that a problem exists and allow any related emotions to run their course. Your employee has the opportunity to move from a reactive and passive space into a thoughtful, proactive and empowering one. They can gain important information about what lies underneath the complaint (their values) and what they want to be different. This information helps them avoid the downward spiral toward blaming. They are in a position to claim more ownership of the situation, the relationship and the desired outcomes by preparing to make a powerful request.