This article helps travelers to deal with the issue of complaining!
When I published the post titled “27 Ways to Ruin Your Travel Experience” a lot of people commented about item number 27 on the list. The list ended by making allusion to how some people degrade their travel experience with non-stop complaints. I found very interesting the fact that many of the commenters expressed their dislike of these types. Others admitted being complainers.
I can state with all certainty that we are all guilty of complaining. Paradoxically, complainers are disliked by others. Therefore, this is not a simple topic and many questions arise. For example, what is a complaint? What is so fascinating about complaining? Why is so common? It is always wrong to complain? Am I a complainer? How my complaining affects my travels? How can I break the pattern?
I do believe complaints adds little to the travel experience. Like I said in the previous paragraphs, it is not necessarily a matter of saying: “I am not going to complain once I am in x place”. That does help (having the correct mindset) but there is much more we can learn. This post will give you a better understanding of the topic. Hopefully, you can use some of the suggestions presented to grow as an individual and as a traveler.
What is a complaint?
A complaint is an expression of grievance, discomfort, discontent or dissatisfaction or perceived as an injustice targeted against the affected person. Most of the time, the word complaint has a negative connotation. On other occasions, it is said that positive people should never complain. But if you consider the definition of a complaint, you can understand that human beings will complain at one moment or another.
A complaint is an expression of disappointment or dissatisfaction and human beings are going to be disappointed sometimes. It can also apply in the reverse order, at some point we are going to disappoint people related to us possibly generating a wave of complaints.
The point is that a complaint is not necessarily an evil thing. It is the purpose and the handling of the complaint that makes the complaint constructive or unconstructive. The complaint is unconstructive when it involves attacks, critics, manipulation, demands, and threats. The complaint may also develop into nagging. Nagging refers to repeated or persistent complaints
. On the other hand, a constructive complaint – when done well – can be a positive experience that benefits the complainer and the person receiving the complaint, and which resolves a problem encountered by the person who is complaining.
Why do people complain?
People complain because their dissatisfaction reaches a critical threshold. When they feel that they can no longer endure their displeasure, people attempt to determine what they can do to reduce the discrepancy between their ideal for a situation and the reality of the situation. People believe that by verbalizing the dissatisfaction in the form of a complaint, the discrepancy is going to be reduced. In addition, people complain because of the following reasons:
- To alleviate feelings of distress.
- To influence other’s impressions.
- To persuade others into changing.
When complaints become unconstructive?
A complaint can have a positive or negative effect. But, when a complaint becomes negative or unconstructive? A complaint becomes unconstructive when one or more of the following happens:
- The complaint is expressed constantly.
- The complaint is expressed to the people who cannot alleviate the dissatisfaction.
- The complaint involves personal attacks.
- The complaint involves critics.
- The complaint is used to demean others.
- The complaint is used to make others feel pity for us.
- The complaint spread negative feelings to others.
- The complaint is used as a low power strategy. This is when the complaint is used to practically coax a person into changing his or her behavior.
- Complaining turns into a vicious cycle.
How can we associate these elements to travel? If these are practiced while abroad (believe me, I have seen people practicing more than one), you will probably have to deal with the negative results of your actions. For example,
- The difficulty of meeting other travelers – who want to be with a complainer.
- Difficulty getting interaction or developing a friendship with locals – complaints involve personal attacks, critics, and negative feelings. I don’t see how this behavior will get you close to locals. Plus, you will probably end up isolating yourself.
- You will probably stay in a bad humor mode.
- You are not going to appreciate or discover what is unique about a place – the negative feelings surrounding you are not going to let you see the good aspects of the visited place.
- You increase the chances of getting in conflict with your travel companions
- You will leave a bad impression on the locals – Have you heard how some locals say, “People of country x are so spoiled”? Well, they probably met complainers.
- You are probably going to spread your bad impressions about the place you visited once you get home.
- And there are many more negative effects once you start complaining!!!
How to deal with unconstructive complaining?
This section will help you to overcome the behaviors associated with unconstructive complaints.
Recognize underlying problems. Sometimes complaints are symptoms of deeper problems. You can’t pretend to suddenly stop complaining if there is something that is hurting you inside. If you know you are a constant complainer, you will have to take some time to identify what is bothering you. Then, you will have to address the issue using some of the tips described below.
Share your feelings. Instead of using critics and attacks to express your dissatisfaction, try to share your feelings. A person may be more receptive to your message if it is seen as an authentic expression of your sentiments. The person does not have to avoid you or withdraw from the talk because you are making the situation about you not about him or her.
Stick to the issue at hand. When discussing a topic, do not deviate from it. When we complain, we tend to bring to the table what happened in the past or start to bring non-related or trivial issues to the conversation.
Keep your verbal expressions brief. State your expressions briefly and precisely. If people recognize you by your long sermons, they will not pay the appropriate attention to your statements.
Avoid accusatory statements and use the first person. Instead of saying something like “You make me feel like this when you do that”, say “I feel like this when you do that”. By using the first person, you avoid reproaching the other party. The first person helps you to open up to the other person.
Avoid using words like, “always” and “never”. These words are excessive. The words are used for emphasis (to make the situation more dramatic) when they really mean “sometimes”. These words are inflammatory, make the problem seem hopeless, and can add to a feeling of being accused.
Consider saying “would you” or “will you” rather than “could you” or “can you”. The words would or will are more pleasant to the ear than the words could or can. When you use would or will is as you are asking somebody to grant you a wish or a dream. Using can or could sounds more like you are giving an order.
Avoid repeating the same statement (complaint) over and over again. If you have to repeat the same thing three or more times, it is obvious that you have to change your tactics. This attitude will drive a person crazy and resentfulness is going to grow against you.
Let go of minor complaints. If you feel like you need to complain, determine if it is worthwhile to do it. As discussed previously, complaints trigger a lot of negative feelings. The negative feelings will affect you and the people around you in a destructive way. If you want to complain about uncontrollable things like the weather or about a minor situation like some local being rude, try to control your feelings by taking depth breaths, relaxing, or finding a distraction. Also, consider the consequences of other’s behavior. If a particular local dish does not satisfy your tasting buds, does that really affects you? You can always eat something else. Don’t drown yourself in a water glass. You are capable of letting go of some things.
Try to brainstorm solutions. Don’t just complain. Make clear that you are expressing your distress because you want to remove it from your life. If you are sharing your feelings with another person (remember to use this technique instead of a complaint), ask the person to help you come up with ideas on how to remedy the situation.
Be grateful and appreciative. It is said that gratefulness cures all pain and opens the way for your greater good. Instead of focusing on how little you get from a relationship, focus on how much you receive. This focal point may help you to turn your feelings upside down. You can’t complain and be grateful at the same time.
Just see what happens if you stop nagging and complaining. You may be surprised at how others may change their attitude towards you once you stop nagging and complaining.
What if you really need to complain (positively)?
We all run into situations where we are not pleased and in many cases, we have an authentic need to voice our dissatisfaction to someone. People have a right to voice their displeasure. It is most often in their interest to do so and in many cases, complaints are the catalyst to the improvement of a product, service, relationship, or process. If you have decided that you need to express a valid complaint, make sure you use the following advice to obtain a good outcome.
Complain to the person who has the power to change the situation. If one of your travel buddies is the problem, it can be really tempting to complain to your other friends about his or her behavior. This attitude is disrespectful and creates avoidance of the problem. If you decide to complain to people who have nothing to do with your problem, nothing is going to change.
Complain about the right thing. Before expressing your complaint, make sure that you understand what the real problem is. The problem may be composed of various layers and you may think you know the problem when what you really know is a symptom. Consequently, do your homework and analyze carefully the situation before exposing it. Remember you are going to use somebody’s time when complaining. You have to express the proper situation if you are seeking resolution.
Complain at the right time. Before complaining, you have to consider everybody’s mood. Start by examining your own mood. Do not complain when you are angry or annoyed by the situation. Make sure you are calmed and have given some thinking to the circumstances. In the same line, make sure your listener is in a receptive mood. Besides, consider the amount of time you need to express your dissatisfaction.
Choose your words correctly. As explained in the previous section, use the first person, and do not use the words “never”, “always” or “can”. Also, remember not to insult, attack, or criticize.
Take responsibility. Sometimes everything is fine and you are the only person with a problem. Try to recognize these situations because if you complain you are risking being viewed as a person who is irrationally annoyed. You may also want to consider what is your role with respect to the problem. Are you part of the problem or are you part of the solution? Again, you may not want to complain when you are the problem (or a big part of the problem).
In this situation, you will not need to complain because you are the person who has the power to change the situation. It is also interesting to notice that it is not correct to complain about others or to others when you as an individual are responsible for being in a specific situation. For example, pretend you work for a marketing firm but you hate marketing. It is not fair to complain about how terrible your job is when you are the only person who can adjust your condition.
Be realistic. Never ask for something you can’t get.
Seek solutions. When you want to express a constructive complaint, you are looking into finding long lasting solutions. When you are complaining, do not try to make somebody admit fault. This may not be necessary to solve the problem. Forget about blaming others and be prepared to discuss some possible solutions. Ask your listener for additional ideas.
Give thanks to the person who is listening to your complaint. If you have secured the positive resolution you seek, thank the people who help you. In the workplace, thank you boss, or the person who was willing to listen and contribute ideas to your problem. Consider communicating with the person’s supervisor to praise about their help. In a personal situation, show your appreciation to your spouse for his/her willingness to look up a solution.
What if you are the target of unconstructive complaints?
You may not be a complainer but what to do if you live, work or travel with a complainer? If you are in a position where you have the power to solve a complainer’s problem, here is some advice:
Develop excellent listening skills. It is essential to listen to the person who is complaining. This may sound easy to do but, in reality, it can be difficult to practice (especially if the complainer is in a bad mood). If you are in a position where you receive constant complaints, it is of supreme importance for you to develop good listening skills. Listening is also important because it gives you clues on how to resolve the complainer’s problem.
Do not interrupt. This goes together with listening. Let the complainer talk without interruptions. This shows interest in what the person wants to say and shows them respect.
Repeat details to make sure you understand the situation.
Control your emotions. Not all complainers are going to talk to you with the desire of presenting a constructive complaint. It is highly probable that they will act as persistent complainers do. They will go to you and start to criticize, blame you for their situation, attack you personally, threaten you, and impose their demands. If you want to solve the situation you will need to control your temper and act with grace and understanding. If you are not able to control yourself, the conflict may escalate to the next level. Do not take anything personally and try to guide the person to a good resolution.
Stay positive. Maybe after listening to the complainer’s story, you will realize that you are not going to be able to give to the complainer what he or she wants.
As said before, sometimes when people complain, they are not realistic and they ask for things that cannot be obtained. Or you may discover that they are the problem and you cannot really help them if they do not help themselves.
However, you may be able to find ways to handle the complaint efficiently by finding some positive action. Maybe you can grant some of the requests but not all of them. Or you may interchange some requests for your own solutions. Brainstorming is of great help in situations like this.
- Be honest. Be honest if you feel you cannot really help the complainer. Refer the person to somebody that can help.
- Accept any responsibility. If you are a part of the complainer’s problem accept your responsibility and recognize that you need to evaluate your attitudes about the situation. Do not respond to the complaint by escalating the situation, avoiding the conflict, or being totally unresponsive. Instead, try to work through the complaint to manage the dissatisfaction or discomfort.
What to do in the case when you do not have any power to solve a complainer’s problem?
For example, how would you deal with a coworker who is constantly complaining about his assignments, the boss, or other coworkers? You cannot really do a lot for this person because you do not have any power over his assignments or the people he works with. On the other hand, you do not want to listen to this person constantly.
I have done the research to try to find information about how to deal with a similar situation. I was not able to find a lot of information. I basically found this article called “How to handle chronic complainers”, where the author cites several strategies that people use against complainers. In his opinion, none of them work. Here they are:
- Cheering complainers. The complainer may feel that you are not taking him or her seriously and he will try really hard to convince you how bad his situation is.
- Suggesting solutions. Complainer’s problems are really serious, at least for them.
- Telling them to quit complaining.
- Complaining about the complainer.
- Ignoring them or avoiding them. Complainers will crave attention even more.
- Complaining along with them.
- Confronting them.
The author of the article states that the only approach that works is to show empathy to the complainer. By empathy, he means to show the complainer that you understand his situation and recognize that is difficult for him. This doesn’t mean that you are going to agree the person has a huge problem or that you are going to feel sorry for the person.
The author states that there is no guarantee that this tip will make complaints go away but at least is going to help you to keep yourself out of the vicious cycle of complaining. I think his view on how to deal with complainers is interesting and that is why I decided to include this information here.
Alternatives: What to do instead of complaining?
Practice gratitude. People who are grateful and count blessings are happier. It is impossible to complain when you feel satisfied.
Praise others. Focus on what others do well instead of just thinking about what they do wrong. In the same line, try to see the positive in every situation.
Focus on success. At the end of the day, think about what you accomplished and what you did right. That will help you to prepare for the next day. You may be able to find solutions in that way.
Let go. Focus on what you can control and forget about what you don’t have the power to change.
The Three No-Complaining Tools
The But → Positive Technique. This simple strategy helps you turn your complaints into positive thoughts, solutions, and actions. It works like this. When you realize you are complaining, you simply add the word but and then add a positive thought or positive action.
Focus on “Get To” instead of “Have To.” Too often we complain and focus on what we have to do. We say things like “I have to go to work.” “I have to drive here.” “I have to do this or that.” Instead, shift your perspective and realize it’s not about having to do anything. You get to do things. You get to live this life. You get to go to work while so many are unemployed. You get to drive in traffic while so many don’t even have a car or are too sick to travel. Focus on what you get to do. Focus on feeling blessed instead of stressed. Focus on gratitude.
Turn Complaints into Solutions. The goal is not to eliminate all complaining. The intent is to eliminate the kind of mindless complaining that doesn’t serve a greater purpose and allow complaining that is justified and worthwhile. The opposite of mindless complaining is justified complaining. The former is negative and the latter is positive. The difference is intent. With mindless complaining, you are mindlessly focusing on problems; however, with justified complaining, you identify a problem, and the complaint moves you toward a solution. Every complaint represents an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.
This post has helped me to gain a deep understanding of the complaining subject. I was able to identify myself with some of the descriptions of persistent complainers.
Gladly, I have learned a lot of techniques on how to change some of my unconstructive behavior. It was interesting to learn how complaints, when constructed correctly, may help to create positive change. It was also interesting to learn how to replace complaining with gratefulness. If you are grateful for what you have, there is no room in your life for unconstructive complaints.
Remember that is fine to be happy with what we have but not with whom we are. There is always room for improvement. We definitely should consider vanishing from our lives unconstructive complaints and replacing them with positive approaches.
How do you deal with negative situations when traveling or in other facets of life?