Complain The Right Way

Posted by on Jan 11, 2013 in Work Relationships | 4 comments

If you want to live a happy life, you’ve got to stop complaining! But sometimes complaining is a good thing- if you complain the right way. Complaining can be an effective way to express yourself, spark positive change, and release your stress. Enjoying the benefits of complaining is all about complaining the right way- the right way to a happier self! (Note: Complaining the right way is not the get exactly what you want way. Sorry, that way doesn’t actually exist.)

I try to avoid complaining, though I will admit sometimes a challenging situation gets the better of me and I momentarily enjoy the self-satisfaction of righteous ranting. The more other people agree my complaints are valid, the more tempted I am to repeat my complaints to someone else and get even more validation. But I know it’s a negative, unproductive cycle and one I’ve got to stop. When I have a legitimate complaint, I focus on complaining the right way to the right people.

Recently I was on the receiving end of the wrong kind of complaining. I felt berated and powerless, unable to come up with a solution while another person repeated their complaints multiple times, blaming and judging me for their perception of the problem. Not only was I unhappy, so was the person complaining. The entire situation was frustrating and demeaning to us both! This unfortunate experience could have had a positive and productive result if approached differently.

What, exactly, is the right way to complain? Here are some ideas for complaining for a positive purpose.

Complaining the right way

Put it in perspective

When you’re unhappy about something it may appear the problem is more dire than it really is. The more powerful your complaint there’s more inflation of your negative perception of a potentially neutral situation. It’s rarely as bad as it feels.

Own your part

Whatever your complaints about another person, organization, or situation, know that only you are responsible for your own happiness and well-being. When you complain the right way you own your part and accept responsibility for your actions and reactions. The best part of accepting responsibility for yourself is having greater influence over your own health and happiness.

Could you have been more communicative? Were you clear about your expectations? Did the other person have all the information? Do you fully understand the situation? Do they fully understand the situation?

Ask questions

Often complaints are built on assumptions or judgments. Perhaps your complaint isn’t really about what someone else did but your expectations, which may or may not be realistic. Maybe there are really good reasons they did what they did. Maybe they just made a one-time mistake (mistakes are okay!).

Asking a few simple questions about the situation can diffuse a your disappointment and provide an opportunity to clarify what really went wrong.

Calm down

It’s never a good idea to communicate when you’re angry. Take a break, get some space, and calm down before sharing your complaints. You can express your concerns more effectively when you’re not emotionally charged.

Tell the right person

If you have a complaint, go directly to the source. Telling your complaints to everyone but the person you’re upset with is just gossiping. It undermines your reputation.

Say it once, and only once

If you repeat your complaints over and over again you are trap yourself in a cycle of negative thinking and your legitimate complaining becomes bullying!

communicationImage courtesy of P Shanks

Be kind and respectful

Every person deserves to be treated with kindness and respect. If the situation were reversed, think about how you’d want to be treated. You have a legitimate complaint and still other people deserve your respect.

If they aren’t being kind and respectful to you, be the bigger person! Don’t stoop to their level. Be someone you are proud to be!

Keep it productive

You have more to gain by focusing on solutions instead of problems. Voice your complaint and follow it up with a solution. How could the situation be improved? What could be done differently next time?

Make a change

Sometimes complaining the right way won’t improve your situation. If a situation is not working for you, you have choices about how you respond- you can choose to make a change. You can change your attitude, change your behavior, or change your situation. You’re never as stuck as you think you are.

Let it go

You’ve complained the right way so what’s next? Let it go! Don’t hold grudges. Don’t keep score. The past cannot be changed and the future is not yet determined. The more you hold on to your complaints, the more likely your reality will match your perceptions.

LLW-ICONS-e1310587621360I love your comments! How does it feel when someone complains to you? What do you wish they would do differently when voicing their complaints?


  1. If I ever complain in a professional setting, I make sure to do it constructively — in a compliment sandwich type of format — if it’s appropriate to the situation. If not, I always try to come up with a solution so I’m contributing to the situation in a positive way (so I totally agree — keep it productive).

    What tips do you have for dealing with chronic complainers who don’t adhere to these tips? I find that they are a big source of stress for me since I want to fix everyone’s problems (even if I can’t!).

    • Thanks for your awesome comment, Laura! Yeah, keeping it productive is the way to go!

      I can relate to wanting to fix other people’s problems- I’m a problem solver at heart and love a challenge. Then again trying to solve other people’s problems isn’t productive at all because there’s really nothing I can do about anyone else’s problems!

      When I get stuck with a chronic complainer there’s a few different things I try. Sometimes I try detaching while I’m listening. I might picture the person’s complaints as bricks and think about what it would feel like to carry them around, or I might picture that person’s complaints as a plate of hot, fresh shit and ask myself if I really want to rub my face in it! Those images usually shake me out of my usual response and help me not take on someone else’s drama.

      Another thing I try is just listening and saying things like, “I’m sorry to hear you’re having a hard time”, or “that sounds really difficult.” By responding without addressing the problem I can acknowledge the other person’s pain without getting personally involved. I can be sympathetic and leave it at that. Easier said than done, I know!

      One other thing I try is focusing on myself- considering what I need to get done, how I want my day to go, etc. It’s easy to get caught up in someone else’s problems when they are right in front of me but I can redirect my attention to living the life I want.

      Let me know if you try any of these and how it works out for you! Thanks for stopping by!


  2. When I saw your headline I immediately started thinking you mean there’s a right way to complain? Huh, I’ve definitely got to check this out.

    Now that I’ve read your post I get what you’re trying to say. As humans we just can’t help ourselves at times. I mean for the most part, complaining really does no one any good and just gets us madder and madder for the most part.

    Heck, I did a good bit of complaining this morning have server issues. It’s frustrating when the person on the other end of the phone isn’t helping you at all and you had to wait 15 minutes just to talk to them.

    See, I have my moments too! Life isn’t perfect but we definitely can chose how we react to certain situations. It sure does help.


    • I hear you, Adrienne! Usually I try to avoid complaining because it doesn’t lift me up- it keeps me down. That said, there are some situations where it can be cathartic and appropriate to complain if done thoughtfully!

      For example, if I received poor service at a store it is appropriate to give feedback to the business so they know how they can improve.

      I also think certain business situations might warrant a complaint if done right because how else will a manager, co-worker, customer, or client know if there’s a problem?!

      And, like you mentioned, sometimes we all get annoyed and have to voice our complaints to get it off our chests and move on. (Sorry to hear about your server issues, by the way. That is frustrating!) As long as we don’t dwell on our dissatisfaction I feel a little brief and honest venting can be a good thing! :)

      Thanks for your awesome comment! Have a grateful day!


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