Have you ever wanted someone on your team to change a behavior in order to make your job easier or better? You want to say something to them, but you don’t want to offend them. What do you do?

While swimming at Meadowbrook Fitness Center a few days ago, a distraught lady pointed to another swimmer who was sharing her lane. “Look!” she yelled, “She almost hit me several times!”

Having just pushed hard on a 300-meter sprint, I was a bit out of breath and uncertain why she was telling me (someone she’d never met) about this other woman whose arms kept flailing into her lane.

“Yep,” I said, as I watched the other lady do her own special version of the backstroke, “It looks like she’s having a hard time keeping her arms on her side of the lane.”

With a touch of panic, the distraught woman repeated herself, “She almost hit me a couple times now.”

The other woman was clearly enjoying her swim and oblivious to our conversation, or her lane-mate’s challenge. The woman complaining, however, wasn’t enjoying herself at all, and I wondered why.

Then I remembered a Jack Canfield quote that goes something like: “People complain because they see an outcome they desire, but they’re unwilling to do what’s necessary to get it.”

Rather than make a specific request of her lane-mate, she did what most people do —complain to someone who cannot directly help. Rather than get out of the pool before completing her swim, why not communicate with the flailing woman? Why not make a request?

Have you ever wanted to change the behavior of someone you work with in order to improve workflow?  You want to say something to them, but you don’t want to offend them, so you complain to other coworkers instead. Why?

Because it’s easier to complain. We’ve been taught this route, from every angle.

Rather than addressing an issue with a teacher, students (and their parents) find it easier to complain to the principal or dean of students. This was the case for me many years ago. Thankfully, a very astute dean said, “Misti, you’re the one having a problem. Why don’t you go talk to her?” And so I did, eventually (when the discomfort of a D- got bad enough).

Turns out, my professor had some excellent ideas to help me with studying, and she continued to give me new strategies throughout the semester. Communicating with her actually solved my problem.

What keeps us from communicating with people we are having a problem with? Maybe it’s the idea of asking them for help. Yes, ask for help. That means being vulnerable. What if they say “no?” Or, worse yet, “That’s a stupid request”?

The good news is that most people are happy to help, when they know what’s needed. Remember, your coworkers and lane-mates are perfectly fine with what they’re doing, and probably oblivious to your discomfort. Nobody wants to be the one being complained about, and most would happily help you have a better experience.
Here’s the even better news — when you give up complaining, and opt for communicating, you’re far more apt to get what you want.

The following are a few keys steps to getting what you want, without having to complain:

  1. Recognize the problem is yours, not theirs. It’s up to you to initiate the search for a solution.
  2. Ask yourself what you want that’s different from what you’re currently getting, and why.
  3. Before communicating, consider the other person’s perspective. More likely than not, they’re clueless about how their behavior is affecting you.
  4. Use “I” statements. Rather than, “You get on my nerves,” consider, “I’m having a difficult time enjoying my swim because I keep worrying that you’re arm is going to hit me. Will you please do your best to stay on your side?”
  5. Make a specific request. Rather than, “You don’t do x, y, or z,” try, “It would really help me if you could keep to your side of the lane.” Here’s an example of how to shift from complaining, to communicating:
    • Complaint to someone else– “Why doesn’t she tell me what’s happening with the project? I need the information too!”
    • Communication – “When I’m included on emails related to the projects I support, I don’t waste time, company resources, and energy worrying about the success of the team. Will you please keep me in the loop?”
  6. Say “Thank you.” Even if they don’t change their behavior, they still took the time to listen to your challenge. Sharing your challenges, and making requests for support, is a far more productive habit than complaining. Doing so gives you a chance to get what you want, so practice.

You can have most, if not all, of the things you want, and getting them starts with asking.

Join The Conversation: Have you ever decided to give up complaining, and simply communicate? What


Thanks to Dexter Britain and Gillycuddy for their music contribution and LN Lurie for producing this podcast.

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