Having spent many years working in customer service before starting my career as a therapist, I have long been aware of the idea of turning complaints into requests, or as it was usually put, into opportunities to build relationships. Essentially, by responding to a customer’s complaint with understanding and actively seeking out a solution you turn that interaction around. They go from having a negative experience to having one that they will be glad to report to their friends and family while singing your praises.
What does this have to do with relationships? I would argue that just as a complaint from a customer is actually a request in disguise, the same holds true for relationships. Whether the parties involved are friends, relatives, or lovers when someone is complaining about YOU what they are really doing is making a request. Of course, when someone is complaining about you the likelihood that you will hear their complaint as a request is pretty minimal. Instead, you’re more likely to feel attacked and either counterattack that person or retreat (physically or emotionally) to avoid their “attack”.
But, I hear you saying, she ALWAYS leaves her toenail clippings on the bathroom counter and she knows I hate that. Don’t I have the right to complain?! Well, sure. It’s perfectly understandable that we become irritated with others from time to time because of things they do that annoy us. But ask yourself this, do you want the person to know that you’re annoyed or do you want them to behave differently? If you want them to become recalcitrant and you want them to remind you about the things that you do which annoy them, then by all means complain away. If you want them to listen to what you’re saying and entertain your point of view, then you will fare much better making a request.
Does that mean I can never complain about anything, you might wonder? There’s a song from the 1960’s by The Byrds called “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and it says that there is a time for everything. If your boss really got under your skin today and you would like to complain about it to your partner I think that is a wonderful idea. Relationships are supposed to be buffers from stress and one of the ways it works is your partner provides a safe place to share your frustration. However, if your partner does something that bothers you, instead of complaining, take a moment and rephrase the complaint in your mind as a request and then present the request to your partner. I think that you will find they are much more receptive to your request than they will be to a complaint. This doesn’t just apply to your partner however; this applies to anyone in your life that you have a relationship with.
What about on the other end of things? If your partner is complaining about something that you have done, can you pause and try to figure out what the request is behind their complaint? This can be a difficult task but doing so might stave off conflict and help build your relationship. First, you’ll need to ignore that gut reaction which tells you to point out what they have done that you don’t like, thereby launching your own complaint right back at them. Or maybe for you in that moment you just want to tune them out and get away from the situation. Either response does not address the underlying issue and leads your partner to feel that they have gone unheard. Instead, acknowledge what your partner has said by rephrasing and checking that you understand what they meant. Notice, you are not necessarily saying that you agree at this point, you are simply checking that you have understood. Next, ask your partner what they would like you to do differently. Again, repeat back to them what they have said and make sure that your understanding matches their intention. From here you can either agree to try and fill your partners request, or you can discuss your thoughts and feelings about the request if you do not fully agree. Whatever the outcome, I’m sure you can see how this will leave both people feeling much better than doing things the old way of complaining, having an argument, then not speaking about it until it comes up again as a complaint.
For more information about turning complaints into requests click here.
If you would like to work on improving your relationships give me a call at (706) 534-8558 or e-mail me at Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com to discuss setting up an initial appointment.