While grocery shopping just the other day, I found myself standing in the “20 items or less” aisle behind a customer who’d decided to checkout and pay for a shopping cart FULL of groceries!
Immediately I started to get impatient and began to silently complain to myself about the situation.
Doesn’t she see that big sign in front of us that says “20 items or less?” How rude can you be lady to keep me waiting longer than I have to!
Later on that day, I thought about how I had reacted earlier while in line. Sadly, it became obvious to me that my first response when inconvenienced was to resort to complaining.
Whenever things in life don’t quite go our way, it can be very tempting to respond by complaining about our situations.
Over in Philippians 2:14-15, Paul says that as believers we should “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.”
For sure, how we respond when things don’t go our way will either help or hinder our testimony as believers.
But are there ever times when it’s actually okay to complain?
And if so, how can we know whether or not our complaint is healthy or toxic?
To answer these questions, here are 4 simple questions to ask whenever you’re tempted to complain:
1. What Do I Want To Happen? There are many different reasons to voice a complaint. Maybe
You want to resolve a problem…
Or maybe you want an apology.
Maybe you’re looking for sympathy from others…
Or maybe you just want to vent.
Whatever the reason, it’s important that you determine it upfront. Failing to clarify your objectives in the beginning will make you less likely to achieve them in the end.
2. Is This The Right Audience To Speak With? According to one research study, 95% of customers who were dissatisfied with a store purchase they’d made chose to voice their dissatisfaction to 10 or more friends instead of directly speaking with the company involved.
So often, it seems so much easier to complain to those outside of a problem than it is to confront those directly involved.
To avoid the mistake of complaining to the wrong person, first ask yourself:
“Is this the right audience for me to speak with?”
If your reason for complaining is to resolve a problem, does the person your about to complain to have the ability to actually do something about your problem? For example, complaining to a coworker around the water cooler usually won’t change much; but talking to the right audience (i.e., your supervisor or HR) might actually make a difference.
Be sure you take the time to evaluate who’s the right audience to voice your complaint to.
3. When’s The Best Time To Voice This Complaint? It’s possible to say the right thing to the right person at the wrong time. Before you jump straight into a complaint, assess the other person’s mood to see if it’s the right time. When in doubt, always ask.
4. Are There Any Actions That I Need To Take? There are times when a complaint can actually help to highlight a wrong that is being committed.
Talking to a restaurant manager about a bad experience you’re having can actually help them improve their customer experience.
But here’s the thing…
People who are prone to jump straight into complaining mode usually aren’t prone to take action to change things.
Maya Angelou once said, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude about it.”
Complaining becomes toxic when we complain about the things that cannot or will not be changed.
It’s only when we decide to take constructive action—either to change a situation or to change our attitudes about it—that we can overcome negativity and end up at a healthy place.
Life will hand you plenty of things that sit beyond your control.
And when it does, you will either be instrumental in changing the way things are or will be left to simply express your frustrations about them.
The choice that you choose is ultimately up to you.