If you absolutely must complain, I have found an interesting, and perhaps socially acceptable, way to do this. There are a few concepts that separate my method from ordinary complaining.
Pecha Kucha is a challenging presentation format where presenters have twenty slides shown for twenty seconds each. Presenters are forced to practice and consider what they will say and how they will transition between sections, and are promptly jerked off of the stage after their time is up.
If you can change your situation, change it. If you can stop yourself from complaining, don’t complain. Always consider these first and consider your underlying assumptions again. What seems out of your control is often in your control but outside of what you let yourself believe. Considering complaining about your relationship or your job or your house? What larger problems are under the surface, and what can you do about them? Even if you don’t believe you can change your situation, you can likely change your attitude about it.
Here are the steps to correctly prepare for your complaint:
- Reflect on the problem and ensure there is little you can do to improve it.
- Estimate how long it will take you to complain appropriately.
- Pick a peer group that knows you.
- Pick a spot where the conversation has lulled.
- Ensure that complaining to this group at this time will actually help you feel better.
The last bullet above is key because the purpose is to release stress due to not being able to change something. If you won’t feel better after doing this, then you should not do it. Your audience is much more willing to listen patiently if they know it will likely help you.
There has been a lot written about how to complain or criticize constructively. However, being constructive in a logical sense is not the goal of this method. Rather, the presentation implies that you have not found a satisfactory solution, but still feel emotionally attached to the problem.
You can present this as, “Guys, I have something to complain about that does not affect you and that I don’t have a solution for, and I would feel a lot better if I could vent about it. Can I talk about this for forty-five seconds or less, and then we don’t have to talk about it any more?”
Hence, the key difference is that Pecha Kucha complaining has a well-defined time limit.
This contract forces your complaint to be articulate and limits your audience’s commitment. No stray word or obscenity will likely help you convey your dissatisfaction within the limits you have set in advance. Rather than spacing out during the complaint or being annoyed or just wondering how long you are going to be complaining, your group listens closely because they know exactly how long this will take. It’s also more compelling than standard complaining because you have obviously considered the weight of your complaint, the value it has to you, and how much time it will take. The less you use this method or any other form of complaining, the more weight it will have. The better your complaints, the more willing people might be to hear them.
Stating at the outset that the complaint does not affect them is important to reducing defensiveness. Obviously you should not say that you are not going to complain about someone and then proceed to complain about them. It also probably helps if you don’t complain about people, or if you do, it is someone that the audience does not know. This prevents you or them from worrying about the actual people involved.
A good structured complaint should cover:
- the problem with context
- your response and emotions
- possible or considered resolutions
- thanking everyone for listening
If you are successful in estimating how much time you have and structuring your thoughts, this all should come out as a coherent whole. You may get some followup feedback, but don’t press for it. Since your audience knows that you are not looking for solutions, they are unlikely to offer them, and, if you presented your complaint well, will instead give honest feedback of your situation and help validate your emotions. Again, this technique can be overdone, so use it and other forms of complaining sparingly. Always seek to solve your own problems and emotional hangups internally before asking others for help.
Have you ever used a structure like this? Have you seen me use it, and what were your thoughts (both the idea and my implementation?) How does this relate to Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus or other conceptual communication frameworks? Is this an improvement over standard water cooler complaining, or am I deluding myself? Leave a comment!