‘Blame is an ineffective request for empathy and for consideration of my pain.’ Kelly Bryson
Despite being primarily a glass-half-full type, or so I tell myself, I notice I invariable find at least one thing each day that I feel drawn to complain about. I can guarantee it – that I will experience my hackles raised at something ‘not being right’, either in myself, or in the world outside of what I call ‘me’. ‘What’s wrong with complaining?’ You might ask. ‘After all, isn’t noticing what’s wrong one way of developing ourselves or of offering others feedback on how they could improve?’
Certainly we can start with noticing what’s wrong… and then what happens? More often than not, stopping there simply triggers criticism in ourselves or others. There are, however, ways in which we can find the opportunities present in complaint.
I’d like to propose the idea that there are such things as complaints that serve life and those that simply don’t, that actually get in the way of our development or even hinder it by drawing us even more deeply into negativity – judgement, criticism and blame. Actually, I’d like to rename life serving complaints simply as ‘graceful feedback’ and the other type that hinder us as ‘grievances.’
How do we engage in ‘graceful feedback’ rather than grievances?
I would suggest that we can start with ourselves first by looking deeply into the complaint that’s surfacing to see what it is that’s actually causing the problem:
- Notice the judgments and criticisms going on in our heads.
- Notice how we feel when telling ourselves these things – Angry? Afraid? Ashamed? Guilty?
- These feelings are useful signposts in that they tell us that, in this situation, we have needs that are not being met. What are those needs? – Respect, Openness? Honesty? Communication? Consideration? Reliability?
- Once we’ve identified the need(s), what ways do we know of meeting those needs ourselves? E.g. I feel angry when someone is late for our appointment. The underlying needs I identify are i)respect of my time and energy and ii) time to complete the task we were meeting to handle together. When I consider how I might not be respecting my time and energy, I notice that I’m hanging around waiting for them, instead of calling them to see what’s happened or getting on with something else. Perhaps I could go ahead with the task on my own and email them later with an update? Or I might approach someone else for assistance instead? Etc… How attached am I to events happening as I expected, rather than being open to situations changing and resilient enough to modify my behaviour accordingly?
- Notice whether there’s any part of the complaint that is really about ourselves e.g. complaining when someone is late for an appointment, when we know that we too struggle to be punctual – either arriving persistently late, or busting a gut to arrive on time but feeling stressed when we do. (In my experience, it can be a very fruitful exercise to address the behaviour in myself first before reviewing the situation to see if I still feel like complaining!)
- Slow down and take some time to tune into our intention. What do we hope to achieve by complaining? If it feels like revenge, like lashing out in some way, then it’s definitely time to stop and to breathe first.
- What would be a life-serving intention in this situation? How does what we want to communicate serve ourselves, others, or the world at large? What would love do?
- Has feedback been invited? If not, perhaps there is some way we can check whether it would be welcome.
Successfully implementing ‘graceful feedback’, primarily in ourselves, can be one of the most powerful processes for serving and feeding relationships. Through focussing on and addressing the unmet needs that are illumined in ourselves, we can find ourselves showing up in ever more present, empowered and life-serving ways.