A Patient’s Perspective: The Thing About Complaining

There was no coffee left.

I admit it. I was unprepared for a busy weekend with coffee drinkers. And so, I found myself waiting in line to get more.

Now, waiting in line isn’t my favorite activity. Hearing there’s a problem with the service isn’t any better. Hearing someone take a strip off the person trying to deal with it is just too much. It got me to thinking … once I had my coffee … just as there are different types of people and reactions, there is a depth to complaining I had to explore.

Here’s the thing: I get it that sometimes we just keep our mouth shut and put up with it and sometimes we lose it and even over react. But, I look at complaining as a tool that should be used with purpose, intent, thought. Complaining can elicit change in circumstance. Used at the appropriate time, complaining can facilitate better communication. And, with or without forethought, complaining can let off a little of the pain, fear, and sense of being overwhelmed.

Complaining takes many forms.

Sometimes, I complain to share how I’m feeling, to explore what I’m feeling, and to get help from others because of how I’m feeling.

Sometimes, I complain with resolve because I need to be heard. Sometimes I complain with anger or disgust because I need a target other than me. And, sometimes, I complain with hopelessness, much like a cry for help because I am overwhelmed.

Some people complain often, while others rarely. Some people complain loudly and obnoxiously, while others quietly as though they are asking permission to do so.

We complain when we are upset about something.

We complain when we want something to change.

We complain when we don’t know what else to do.

With all this complaining going on around us how do we respond? When do we pay attention? Who do we pay attention to? To what end?

All of which brings me back to my coffee moment. The customer that complained loudly, obnoxiously, and excessively all the way out the door probably wasn’t any happier for having done so, right?

I would never take away someone’s right to complain, but I ask you to consider three things.

One, consider, from your perspective, why you’re complaining, what you want, and if you’re going to feel it was worth it. Yes, we all blow our top on occasion and even sometimes feel better for it. If that’s what you have to do, fine, but then own it, admit it when you look back on it. In other words, evaluate what happened, your response to it, and any results / consequences. That’s how we learn what works and what doesn’t.

Two, consider, from your perspective, when someone is complaining why they are doing it, what they want or need, and if you can help. That’s right … sometimes someone else is doing the complaining … sometimes at us. It’s difficult not to get defensive, but you can learn a lot by taking a breath and just listening to what the other person has to say or what they are experiencing from their perspective. Who knows? Maybe as a result there’s better communication and change for the better.

Three, no matter what never be afraid to speak up, complain, make a fuss. We’ve all been there. Get along. Play nice. Don’t rock the boat. Okay, sometimes we need to do those things and sometimes we need to say enough is enough. There will always be times we look back and admit we should have thought something through a little more. But, I’d rather live with those moments than the ones where I say I should have said something that needed to be said. We can’t count on someone else always speaking up for us.

Yes, there are times we roll our eyes because someone is loud, obnoxious, seemingly unreasonable. But, for me, I see all too often the times when people do not speak up. To me, being labeled a complainer, a rebel, a rabble-rouser is not so bad … just pick your battles.







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