Facts for Living: Complaining the right way

By Rebecca McFarland
Frontier Extension District Agent

080714-facts-for-living1Have you been practicing the speaker-listener technique? Previously, I shared the importance of using the speaker-listener technique after a time-out for sensitive or conflict-ridden issues. The next important communication skill to learn and develop is effective ways to raise issues and complaints. You’re probably thinking, “Complaining is okay to do and you can do it effectively?”

Yes, but first, let’s start with some common, ineffective ways to complain:

Mind-reading – assumes you know what the other person is thinking, what he or she intended, or why he or she did something. People hate to be told what they are thinking. Common statements such as, “You don’t care at all about my feelings” and “you just did that on purpose to get back because you are still angry about yesterday” are some examples.

Name-calling – occurs when you attack someone’s character, instead of focusing on a specific behavior that bothers you. “You’re so irresponsible. You’re such a jerk!” versus, “I’m really upset, you didn’t follow through with finishing the laundry when you promised you would.”

You always …, you never … these statements are overgeneralizations. A person may do something a lot, but he or she does not do it every time, all the time. No one is that consistent!

Blaming is usually done with an angry intent to hurt another person. “It’s all your fault this happened.” Blaming doesn’t bring two people closer to resolving the problem.

Kitchen-sinking is when you start with one complaint and then throw in another, and another, eventually overwhelming the person.

Cross-complaining is when you bring up a complaint and the other person immediately turns the conversation around and says, “Yeah, but you …”

The better way to complain or raise an issue is to use the WWA method: What specific behavior; when or where it happened last, and how it affected you. By focusing on what happened, you avoid name-calling or attacking the person’s character. You focus on the specific behavior, a specific comment or situation. When you focus on the, when or where it happened, you avoid the “you always/you never”. State how it affected you, why it bothered you, or how you felt about it. Speak for yourself and give information about how the behavior impacted you.

It’s important to avoid negatives starts when raising a concern or complaint. If a person starts out negative and harsh, the other person tends to turn off or become defensive from the beginning. Research has shown that arguments typically end on the same tone in which they begin. If you start negatively and harsh, it will probably end negatively. And remember, it takes five positive interactions to counter the effects of one negative interaction.


McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and child development agent. For more information, she can be contacted at Frontier Extension’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].

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