How to be an effective complainer

I was interrupted four times during dinner last night. Four times. I was talking with my daughter about how to handle a difficult situation in the classroom and she interrupted to ask for an orange and mention her tights. My husband then threw out a comment about his Fantasy Football team and by then, I’d dropped my topic and went into full complaining mode. I’ll save you the rant and just give you some of the key words: Seriously people. I am talking. Nobody listens. Disrespectful. Rude.  Nobody ever…

Then, we all turned back to our shrimp pasta. I never raised my voice – no this episode had more of a whining, martyr feel to it.  I whimpered awhile. I chose to complain rather than truly describe why I was frustrated and what I was feeling.

This strategy is just so unproductive and, to use the technical term, icky. I even got sick of hearing myself and finally decided to interrupt myself to put an end to the behavior.

Caught up in complaint

When we complain – when we repeatedly express our unhappiness – we settle into the negative. We are no longer focused on solutions because we are too busy looking at what isn’t working. And, because we are not noticing our emotions or their source, we get caught in this place of rumination and upset. This is a constrictive, icky place to be. One that is sure to annoy everyone around and keep you focused on the failure rather than the possibility. There is no feel-better moment when you are in this cycle, the bad thoughts rip through like a circular saw cutting at your mood until ultimately, you just feel stuck and bummed.

In other words, me complaining about interrupting didn’t stop it from happening. It didn’t give the other people at the table anything to work with. They heard my complaint as whiny noise. But, there are some strategies we can use to effectively share our frustrations. When we do it the right way we become creators rather than complainers.

Here are a few things to try:

1. Share your frustration, one time. One thing I am very – and I mean VERY — good at,  is over talking things. I have a well-honed ability to go on. And on. And on, until people are packing their bags and moving out of the house with me trailing after them into the driveway. This keeps me stuck in the ick and causes other people to get so annoyed that they stop listening. I don’t recommend this strategy. Share your concern once. Let it go.

2. Explain what you don’t like and say what you need. Sure, it’s o.k. to let people know when you’re uncomfortable or offended. But also let them know what you need to move through it, then take responsibility for getting there. When you ruminate about the bad stuff your family and friends feel trapped because they don’t know how to help.

I’ve seen this happen in my own experience as a person living with rheumatoid arthritis. If I complain about my pain and also have a clear way through it, it’s a more positive experience. For example I might say “My ankle is really hurting and I know I would feel better if I just sat down and took a rest.”

I feel better because I’m sharing my feelings and my husband feels better because he has a clear way to help — take over so I can rest — if he so decides.

Instead of getting stuck in the complaint, we immediately began moving toward a solution.

Do this for yourself. When you catch yourself complaining, notice what you’re complaining about, then also determine what you need to feel better and go after it.

3. Take 10 and grouse. Sometimes you’re in a funk and you need to fuss and whine about all your trouble. This is when I call a girlfriend or write in my journal, or take a time-out and complain. Give yourself a set amount of time – say 10 minutes, certainly no more than 20 – to wallow, whine and fuss over your frustration. Make an agreement with yourself that when your time to complain is up, you’ll pause for two minutes to do a quick gratitude exercise. This way you don’t stay stuck in the negative energy.

Discontent can be a part of life, but getting trapped by your own complaint cycle is limiting and completely unnecessary. Choose to do it differently and you’ll see fairly quickly that you’ve become a creator rather than a complainer. In Wednesday’s post, I’ll show you the difference.


2 responses to “How to be an effective complainer”

  1. Tina Gilbertson

    Great post, Polly! I appreciate that you seem to be recommending a balance of responsibility and self-compassion.

    We especially need a heaping helping of self-compassion when it comes to rumination, I think. Trying to stop it by force doesn’t seem to work.

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