The Squeaky Wheel

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

When Minor Complaints Have Major Consequences

Don't ignore small complaints that make a big difference

Our ability to voice minor complaints effectively and get the response we want from others is crucial because seemingly minor dissatisfactions often have major implications for our physical and mental health.

We tend to have innumerable complaints and dissatisfactions and certainly not all of them are important or worthy of pursuit. But seemingly small complaints often lead to big problems. For example, seemingly 'trivial' sexual complaints, when ignored, can be quite detrimental to our relationships (read more here) and accumulating frustrations about numerous minor complaints can impact our mental health at large (read more here). 

Why do so many of our complaints remain unresolved? Today, our complaining psychology is such that we have become shockingly ineffective in how we go about voicing our dissatisfactions. As an illustration of our complaining learned helplessness, people all over the world have taken to forming complaint choirs (yes, real choirs!) to sing about their complaints in town squares and concert halls to originally composed music. Fun? Maybe. Effective? Not so much. As none of their complaints get resolved this way (read more here).

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I recently received a letter from a reader who wrote to ask my advice about how to voice her complaint effectively. Her letter is a great example of how a simple and common complaint can have huge implications, in this case, for her family's health. She lives in a multiple family household in which the person doing the food shopping has taken to buying unhealthy foods after family members had previously agreed to avoid them (because of substantial weight gain and concerns about their health). None of the adults or children in the home has health insurance. She tried voicing her concern to the person doing the shopping but they became very defensive and the conversation went downhill (read a fuller account of her letter and my advice here).

The larger issue is that such scenarios occur more often than we realize. Many of our complaints might seem trivial to us (or to the person to whom we're voicing them) when their implications are not. You might consider it a mere nuisance if your spouse's snoring keeps waking you up at night, but sleep deprivation has a huge impact on our mood and our intellectual functioning (read more here). You might consider the hours you spend in your doctor's waiting room to be a manageable frustration but many people actually avoid visiting their doctors for exactly such reasons and jeopardize their health by doing so (read more here). You might think that spending an hour on hold when you call a customer service hotline is an annoyance you'd rather skip but many people forgo hundreds and often thousands of dollars in refunds and adjustments they can ill afford to lose (read more here). And you might believe that complaining to your children's school about the hours of homework they're assigned a night is unnecessary even though it leaves them no free time for play or socializing (read more here).

The bottom line is that when considering which complaints to voice and which to let slide we should always think through the full implications of leaving the problem unresolved and the long-term impact doing so can have. We are likely to find that many of our complaints are far more important than we realized initially. To assess whether a complaint is worth voicing, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Would leaving the complaint unresolved affect the health or mental health of anyone concerned?

2. Could leaving the complaint unresolved erode the relationship with the other person over time?

3. Do you find yourself thinking about the issue frequently? Has it nagged at you over time?

4. Is the frustration, hurt, or disappointment you feel about the issue substantial?

5. Would resolving the complaint improve your quaility of life?

6. Would resolving the complaint improve your mood in the short or long term?

7. Does leaving the complaint unresolved make you feel powerless and helpless?

Answering any of these questions in the affirmative means your complaint is one you should consider pursuing.

For more advice about how to complaint effectively and to read more about complaining psychology, check out The Squeaky Wheel.

Copyright 2012 Guy Winch

Follow me on Twitter @GuyWinch

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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