The Complainer

By Loma K. Flowers, MD, President, Equilibrium Dynamics and Alicia Nimonkar, Editor and Writer with, Certified Trainer with Equilibrium Dynamics.

If you like to complain, there are three challenges to meet in order to make your complaints emotionally competent. First, you have to choose whom to complain to. Then you have to decide what constructive outcome you want from the interaction and third, how you phrase what you wish to say to maximize you chances of getting the outcome you want.

Here’s a small cascade of complaints. Dan is a friend of mine who recently complained to me about his coworker, Sara. Sara is someone who is continually complaining to Dan about others whom she judges as not completing their share of the workload—her favorite complaint. 

Sara is aware of her emotions and how frustrated and powerless she is about feeling she is working harder than others, so her motivation may be simply to vent to another person.  She may have deliberately chosen Dan to complain to because he seems so even-tempered that she may believe that he is not going to be affected by her complaining.

In the hospital setting where they work, it’s easy to track how many patients each worker assists in a day and as far as he can see, she’s right. When Dan sees this happening his own response is to just help pick up the slack.  Of course, at times, he also gets frustrated and resentful about the impact on him, but he focuses on doing his thing and maintaining the quality of his work, never complaining to either coworkers or supervisors. However, he does vent to me, outside of work.

Sara, however, has not tuned in to Dan’s actual feelings and he has not told her about her impact on him. Therefore they both have an opportunity here to improve their communication skills and to address their work relationships effectively. Perhaps they can even brainstorm together about how to address the workload issue most constructively. Then, they can make a plan to improve the workplace environment and implement it as a team. Demonstrating such leadership often helps to further career goals at the same time.

Once they develop “the best plan for now and later,” they have a positive reason to speak directly with everyone involved. This requires communication skills practice and they would probably benefit from rehearsing ahead of time. They could role-play managing the responses they expect.

Here’s a checklist for Dan, Sara and me: 

  • Identify your complaints
  • Determine your goals for improvement
  • Communicate the issue—fact and/or impact on you—using appropriate language and etiquette
  • Listen to the other person’s motivation and/or apology, keeping an open mind
  • Decide on your responses, including time to reflect; remember forgiveness is not a right and reparations go much further than regrets.
  • Suggest a plan for the future
  • Negotiate towards agreement
  • Thank the other person for sharing their perspective and working on the issues with you


|| November 25, 2013