The Squeaky Wheel

How to protect your psychological health, improve your relationships, and enhance your self-esteem.

A New Year's Resolution You Won't Complain About

Learn how to complain effectively.

This New Year's you can improve your relationships, bolster your mental health and enhance your self-esteem all by making one simple resolution. Even better, keeping this resolution is easier than sticking to a diet, attending classes at a gym or organizing all your closets.

What is this surprising resolution? Learn how to complain effectively about things that matter.

 

Poor complaining skills make for bad relationships, low self-esteem and high stress

Most arguments between couples begin when one person voices a complaint poorly, the other responds defensively and things descend from there. Most of our consumer complaints cause us frustration and aggravation and make us feel victimized and helpless, yet 95% of them never get resolved to our satisfaction. Many problems in our communities persist because we believe complaining about things such as broken traffic lights, dangerous equipment in our children's playground or rude clerks in stores will not help.

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We're right about one thing: If we lack the skills and know-how to complain effectively, our complaints will probably not bring about change in any of these situations. But what if we learned the techniques and skills necessary to complain effectively?

If we knew how to complain to our spouse without causing an argument, we could address important issues and have stronger and happier relationships. If we knew how to complain effectively as consumers, we could save both time and money, not to mention significant stress and irritation. If we learned how to complain productively to our municipalities, local businesses and elected officials we could have better functioning and more pleasant communities.

Think of how much we could change if we learned how to complain effectively!

If learning effective complaining skills is so beneficial-why doesn't everyone learn them?

Most of us are unaware that acquiring effective complaining skills could improve our quality of life in so many ways. We usually think of complaining as whining, or at best, as opportunities to vent and get things off our chest. We do not realize that lacking effective complaining skills can negatively impact our self-esteem and our mental health. We also fail to recognize how empowered we could feel by complaining effectively and getting a satisfying result.

However, our biggest problem has been we lack a central source, a place to learn effective complaining techniques that work for all aspects of our lives. Sure, we could find articles about writing complaint letters to companies but they would lack critical information about how to manage our emotional state when doing so. Many books discuss couple communication techniques but none of them break down how to structure our complaints step by step so we voice them in ways that minimizes arguments and strengthens our relationship in the long run.

Where and how to acquire effective complaining techniques and skills

Once we've resolved to improve our complaining effectiveness we can acquire and hone our complaining skills in several ways:

1. Become informed. If you have a problem with a company, organization, or a municipality, it worthwhile researching who is authorized to handle/resolve your issue, try techniques like The Complaint Sandwich and read articles/books about how to complain effectively in various situations.

2. Learn from others. Most of has have similar complaints about similar problems. When we hear about someone successfully resolving a common complaint, like resolving a dispute about charges with their phone carrier, we should make a mental note of it and seek their advice if we run into a similar problem.

3. Practice. Complaining effectively is a skill set, which means our effectiveness will improve the more we practice in various situations. For example, we might be skilled at complaining to stores but still need practice complaining to our spouse.

Which complaints should I tackle?

Most of us have outstanding complaints we could or should address. We have bills we never disputed for items or services for which we were overcharged. Products with which we were dissatisfied remain unpacked, unwrapped or unused on our shelves. We have clothes that are the wrong color or size hanging in our closets with their price tags still attached. We all have a colleague or friend that did something upsetting that nags at us but that we never brought up for discussion, and we all have unresolved issues with our loved ones or pet peeves about something our partners do that drives us crazy.

Any of the above complaints is resolution-worthy, though we should only tackle one of them at a time. As is always the case, making a New Year resolution is much easier than keeping it, so let's look at some tips that will help you keep your resolution, whatever it is.  

Tips to help you keep your New Year's resolution

1. Break it down into steps. For example, rank your list of complaints from easy to challenging. Start with the easiest complaint and move down the list once you have a success under your belt. Break down other resolutions as well, such as milestones for weight loss or smoking reduction.

2. Set a time table. For example, decide when you plan to address each of the complaints on your list. If you resolved to organize your closets, specify when you plan to tackle each one.

3. Don't go it alone. Find a buddy who wants to make a similar resolution. Getting support and encouragement from a friend and sharing tips and advice can make the journey easier.

4. Write it down. We tend to take written declarations more seriously than we do verbal ones. Write your resolution in a diary or post them on a blog or on Facebook. Tweet your progress as you make steps toward your goal. Please keep relational complaints private. Complaining to your spouse about their personal hygiene might be fair but for goodness sakes, don't tweet about it.

5. Be accountable. Relational complaints aside, tell people about your resolution. Doing so helps keep us honest and makes us more likely to succeed.

For more about complaining psychology and how-to solutions, check out The Squeaky Wheel.

Copyright 2010 Guy Winch

Guy Winch, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and author of The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships and Enhance Self-Esteem. more...

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