3 Steps to Sweet Complaining

Person Annoyed by Others TalkingIt had been a long day. I came home from work exhausted and the moment I walked in the door–BOOM—my spouse bombarded me with questions: “Did you put the concert in your calendar?” “Do you know where that receipt is?” “School’s cancelled tomorrow. Will you be home?” “Kaitlyn got invited to….” My head began to spin and I began to hear the sounds adults make on Charlie Brown…”Blah, blah-blah blah, blah.” I had a little question of my own to answer: How do I escape? I wanted to scream…or turn around and walk back out the door to get a breather…or go into the bathroom and “pretend to be occupied by the call of nature.” I don’t know…I had to do something though!


Have you ever run into a situation like that, a situation in which you have a legitimate complaint but you don’t know how to address it? We all have. I watched “Saving Mr. Banks” recently (an excellent movie, by the way) and was reminded of an excellent solution. Mary Poppins gives the solution when she sings “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down…in the most delightful way.” Complaints, like many medicines, have a bitter taste to the one receiving it. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth, elicits defensiveness, and can make a person feel unappreciated. The residual bad taste, feelings of defensiveness, and a feeling of being unappreciated make it difficult for the person receiving the complaint to hear it or understand it. Instead, they might feel hurt or angry. You can avoid this by offering the complaint in “a spoonful of sugar!” Here is how to do it.


First, step back for a moment and think about the other person’s intent. What are they trying to accomplish with the behavior that you want to complain about? What contributes to their action? In my example, my wife is an incredible planner and organizer. Without her planning I would not get near as much done as I do and our family would miss out on so many opportunities. The positive intention of her behavior is making sure our family is on the same page, that I do not miss any important events, and the each person’s needs are met.


Second, appreciate and admire that intention. Take a moment to realize the benefit of the other person’s work. Allow it soak in. admire that person for their desire to bring something good and positive into your life. In my example, I can appreciate how smoothly our family functions and how many activities and opportunities we engaged in because of my wife’s planning. I can admire her for her selfless work in making our family life better.


African American Couple Laughing On The FloorThird, tell the other person. Tell them how much you admire and appreciate them (step two). Then, convert your complaint into a simple statement of need.  Explain in one statement what your family member can do to help you. A practical example from my situation…”I really appreciate how you keep things organized for our family. In fact, I am amazed at how much we are able to do because of your efforts and how much you accomplish. One of the things I love about you is your ability to organize and how you use that ability to help our family do so many fun things. And, I am glad to answer questions. But, when I come home could we postpone the questions until we greet each other and have 10-15 minutes of down time and small talk?” There it is, a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down…in the most delightful way.


Quit complaining. Offer your legitimate concerns with a spoonful of sugar. A little love and admiration and a practical statement helps a concern “go down…in the most delightful way.”

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