From Complaining to Commitment

A few weeks ago I wrote about the "discourse of complaining." While I am no fan of whining, I like that phrase because it reminds us that complaints actually are serious things–it is a way to identify the things you need less of or more of in order to be more productive, happy, fulfilled, successful, etc. As I mentioned, these ideas came from Robert Kegan and one of his students who taught a class for me during my Georgetown Organization Development program.

The discourse of complaining is not enough on its own, though. The next step is to identify the underlying commitments or values you have behind the complaints. It's a simple concept. Underneath your unhappiness is something that matters to you. We often don't articulate that part. We assume that the "what's important" part is obvious, or we know generally why it matters, but not specifically. 

I find clarity about what's important works a lot better as a motivator for problem solving than expanding on or repeating your complaining. It's also critical when you need help, as people (as you can imagine) are less responsive to complaints than they are to a positive statement of what matters.

This is also useful when dealing with other people's complaints. Instead of getting defensive about the complaint (if they are complaining to/about you), ask more questions about the underlying commitments to put you both in a better frame of mind for solving the problem.