Criticizing, complaining and asking for change.


By David Joel Miller.

Criticizing, complaining and asking for change.

Communication skills part 3.

Communication Problems

Communication Problems
Photo courtesy of Flickr (Ed Yourdon)

When something bugs us what should we do? When we are unhappy we are likely to react in one of a very few ways. Will you say nothing, become angry or take a middle road and try to talk about the issue?

Some people say nothing and suffer in silence. For those people, we recommend assertiveness training. If you do nothing about a problem then you become part of the mechanism perpetuation the problem not part of the solution.

Some people react to annoyances by becoming angry and acting out. Even if the violent approach works in the short run it is likely to result in long-term undesirable consequences. An excessive response to a problem may wind up in you having to do an Anger Management class, going to jail or permanently damaging the relationship.

In between is the “let’s talk about it” approach. Some ways of talking with the other person are more effective than others.

Criticizing is not communication.

Criticizing is the method most often used and least likely to be helpful. This method attacks the other person. You call them names for not doing what you think they should. Statements get made like “you don’t respect me, you are a slob or other personal attacks.

Criticizing does not make any friends. When we are criticized we are likely to become defensive and reply with our list of all the things the other has done. Criticize someone too often and they may stop listening altogether.

Criticizing cuts off communication rather than improving it or getting things to change.

Complaining does not help communication.

Complaining involves talking about how the issue is affecting you.  While a slight improvement over criticizing it rarely gets anything to change.

This is a recurring behavior in work settings where people complain about how they have to too much to do and saying other do not help and so on. It can become the standard operating procedure in some settings.

People who work as professionals in a complaint department know, or should know, the importance of listening to the customer’s complaint. Until the person feels their complaint has been heard nothing much is likely to happen to resolve that complaint. But eventually, the process needs to move beyond complaining.

Some relationship skill building programs suggest combining the complaining behavior with the next step, problem-solving or asking for change. While complaining may be a way to tell the other person what is upsetting you, moving to the next step and stating the specifics you want to change is most likely to improve the situation.

Asking for change improves communication.

Of all the ways of dealing with problems, this is the most likely to improve the situation despite seeming to be the hardest thing to do.

Use good problem-solving skills. Ask for change and stay on the problem and how to solve it. The greatest chance for an improvement is to find a solution in which both parties win rather than a win-lose situation. There needs to be genuine two-way communication, hearing and being heard.

Making things better.

Make sure that when you have a problem with another person that you avoid the name calling and the personal attacks.

Clearly, state the problem as you see it. Ask for specific changes such as not interrupting you when you speak rather than global things like being nicer.

Listen while the other person describes how they see the problem. Work towards understanding their point of view. Look for a solution that meets both of your needs.

More on communication skills can be found at:

Communication is not what you think

Just being Honest        

Criticism, complaining, asking for change.

How are your communication skills? Are you criticizing, complaining or asking for change?

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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2 thoughts on “Criticizing, complaining and asking for change.

  1. Pingback: Just being honest – 5 times telling the truth is a bad thing | counselorssoapbox

  2. Pingback: Communication is not what you think | counselorssoapbox

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