Archive | June, 2012

Be an Effective Complainer!

28 Jun

Having the ability to appropriately present a complaint is good for relationships as well as keeping your personal stress and sanity in check.  Get a load of this!  According to Dr. Gottman’s research, 69% of all conflicts in a marriage are perpetual, meaning they aren’t going to be solved.  However, they can be managed, so learning to complain-well is critical.  (Page 11 of book report.)

I’m going to start with a choice… think of 2 or 3 complaints you have.  Work through them as you read on.

Preparation for complaining:

  1. Check your emotional state.  Before you send the email or text, start the conversation, or blurt out your side of the story make sure you are in a calm, objective, resourceful state.  Based on how the brain works, if you are frustrated, angry, anxious, or overwhelmed you are less likely to be able to listen effectively to others and, you are less able to entertain new options and ideas.
  2. Check your assumptions (a thought we believe to be true or certain without proof.)  Many of our assumptions operate at an unconscious level.  Stop and ask yourself a few questions; “what do I know for sure, what do I think I know, and what don’t I know” about this situation.  Clarifying assumptions is a great way to talk about a complaint situation!
  3. Be honest, do you really want to solve, or at least manage, this problem?  Or do you really want the other party to submit, gravel, cower, etc.?  If you can authentically listen, learn and consider options – you’re ready to go!

Getting down to complaining…

First and foremost, avoid a harsh start-up.  Gottman says “Discussions invariably end on the same note it began, which is why 96% of the time he can predict the fate of a conflict discussion within the first 3 minutes.”  (Page 13 of book report)

Second, try to depersonalize the complaint i.e. what is the actual problem or issue you’d like to resolve?  Examples:


Personalized (criticism?)

I’d like the checkbook balanced 

I’d like the house to look clean

What time should we leave

Who’s in charge of doing…

The kids can/cannot do…

You never enter your deduction. 

You never pick up your clothes.

We’re always late because you…

I have to handle everything

You’re a push over, I’m always the bad guy

When we personalize a complaint the other person’s brain is likely to feel attacked.  An attacked brain will go into fight or flight mode, creating little opportunity for a resourceful, option-rich discussion.

Many complaints are based on misinformation or missed information.  Before you start finger pointing and blaming it would be really helpful to make sure you both know what problem or issue you’re trying to fix.  “What time do we leave” can be a proactive discussion.  “You’re always late” is an argument.

Here is one idea to keep things objective and less personal.  Friends of mine used an apple – yes, an apple.  When one or the other wanted to voice a complaint they put the apple out in the open between them and said they’d like to discuss a situation.  Making the apple synonymous with the problem helped keep things focused on the issue rather than the people.  Don’t worry about appearances or being corny– find something that works for you and your spouse, children, siblings, co-workers or friends.  This is about building healthy, long-term relationship!  The big idea;  don’t avoid complaints and try to do it well!

Coming soon – When You’re STUCK, complaints that don’t go away!  In the mean time checkout the book report (or book) The Seven Principles of Making a Marriage Work Whether you’re married or looking to be more effective in any long-term relationship the book is full of great tools, research, assessments and exercise.

How’d you do on your choice?  Ready to move forward?

Relationship Quandries

25 Jun

Relationship scientist Dr. John Gottman has mountains of research on how people do relationship.  His primary focus has been within marriages and parenting, however, he has found that most of those findings are true in any relationship with longevity and connection (siblings, parents, coworkers, close friends, etc.)

One of the many helpful things I have gotten from Gottman’s work is a clear understanding of the difference between a complaint, criticism and contempt.

A complaint addresses a specific action, behavior or observation. Examples: this room is a mess. Your tone of voice felt harsh and intimidating.  You said you’d help more with the housework – I haven’t noticed a change.

A criticism is more global and adds negative words about the other persons character or personality – it ups the ante by adding blame and general character assassination.  Examples: why do you always leave such a mess?  You always get short and snippy when you want your way. You never help around here – I ask for help, you say yes and then blow me off.

Contempt is the worst – it is poisonous because it conveys disgust. Sarcasm and cynicism are types of contempt. The purpose of contempt is often to demean the other person, to make them feel less than or incompetent.  Examples; you’re an inconsiderate slob – I can’t stand your messes. Being loud does not make you right – you’re a small person who’s a bully. You are self-centered – you don’t care about me or anyone else – forget it, I’ll do it as usual!

As a side note, couples that are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illnesses than other people. Stress kills!  Also, contempt, if not turned around, leads to divorce or a very unhappy relationship in almost every case.

So let’s talk about choices with regards to complaints, criticism and contempt. Learn to be an ‘effective complainer’.  Complaints are a healthy, appropriate way of voicing your concerns.  It is much healthier to voice a complaint and discuss it than it is to repeatedly stuff the emotions (that too will slowly kill you.)  When complaints go without discussion they can quickly slide into criticism and eventually contempt.  (My next blog is on how to be an effective complainer!)

Criticism.  Honestly listen to yourself.  How many absolutes and generalization do you use, especially when you’re frustrated (always, never, everyone, all the time, etc.).  Also pay attention to your tone, body language and self-talk.  When you tell the story in your head or to others, to what degree are you making the other person the villain?

Contempt.  Believe it or not, eye rolling is a sign of contempt.  Where are your eyes?  Do you say or do things that cause others to feel small, insignificant or inept?  Do the stories you tell about your spouse, child, sibling or co-worker make them out to be stupid, incompetent or a joke of a person?  That is contempt.  No matter what you think of them, they have legitimate worth, value and purpose.

For more on Gottman’s research check out this book report.  Have a good day and stay tuned for tips on being a better complainer.

Go Out Side!

6 Jun

No, I’m not talking to your kids; I’m talking to you!  Seriously, there is something restorative about getting out of the house, office or car and going for a walk.  No, this is not an exercise message – it’s a whole life healer.  Physically, mentally and emotionally getting some fresh air, a different perspective and a little glucose to your brain is good!

Get a load of this... I saw thousands of these flowers and everyone is the same, two colored petals!

Oh boy, this started out a quick message based on an amazing bike ride I took this morning… but I can see I’m going  to have to infiltrate some brain science.

 I’ll finish my first thought based on my bike ride.  Early morning, sunny, spring (yes it’s still spring!) – it doesn’t get better than that!  Do you have any idea how many kinds of hostas there are?  Seriously, just look at nature, it is so persistent and creative.  Beautiful little flowers popping up in the crack of sidewalks!  I’m not big on bugs in my house, but there are all kinds of curious thing crawling around to watch. Ponds, weeds, ducks, trees, wind, petals, birds, green, pink, purple, orange, gold, sunsets …nature pretty much covers the gamut of possibilities.  If you stop and look – you cannot help but be amazed.  Being amazed is good!

Sunny, spring, happy – great, but there is a more important time to get up and go outside.  When you’re in a bad mood!  Exercise, fresh air and curiosity are one of the greatest ways to combat stress, anxiety, overwhelmed or sad.  Before you grab that cookie, potato chip or remote control – commit to go for a 15 minute walk around the block and find 10 interesting thing (not necessarily impressive, new or incredible – just interesting.)  Now, notice if your mood or perspective have changed.

Your brain does not do fear and gratitude at the some time.  You get to choose which one is in charge!

Your choice: take a walk and seek gratitude, amazement and curiosity?  Or, let your stress, anxiety, anger or frustration allow fear to rule your brain!  You have choice!

Ok, on the brain science side, just a short plug for moderate exercise.  This two page overview comes from Dr. John Medin’s book called Brain Rules – a must read.  Research shows that physical exercise is cognitive candy!!  In other words, your brain would appreciate that walk around the block (as will you and the people around you!)