What are you really complaining about?
Einstein said it best when he said “any issue needs to be resolved 6 layers below where it presents itself”
Most issues and grievances in relationships with others, be it your love, family, friends or colleagues, usually show up as a complaint or criticism and is what starts the cycle of conflict and misunderstanding. Unless we learn how to communicate effectively we can become embroiled in power struggles instead of creating collaborative solutions and loving connections.
It is up to us individually to learn to understand the “hope behind a complaint” and that means understanding your own needs and feelings that are propelling your complaint and the complaints of others. Relationships are such a rich opportunity for learning, which gives us endless possibilities to learn to understand ourselves and others in a deeper and more meaningful way. Einstein meant that, what we initially say is the problem, is not usually a good representation of the REAL problem, and that we need to dig deeper to figure out what a complaint or criticism really means.
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Every complaint, criticism or conflict is an unfortunate strategy to get to something important and is usually a backhanded request for something that we need or value. Unfortunately
unless we learn to communicate in a positive way our relationships suffer and we suffer.Complaining, criticism and conflict does not get you what you want and does not create connection, harmony and more love. In fact it does the opposite. Learning to understand the deeper meaning behind a complaint will allow you to express yourself with the likelihood of creating more positive connections, being better understood and others wanting to support you, instead of creating more conflict. Sometimes it is easier to understand if I give you an example. You may even have encountered this yourself at some point. One of my clients was upset, complaining and criticizing their partner for being too busy to spend time together. This was creating a huge conflict and was threatening their partnership. It is true that for relationships to flourish couples need to spend time together but the way this one partner was communicating was doing the opposite of what they really wanted. So it was a lose-lose for sure. The other partner was feeling defensive, blamed and criticized, and was strongly defending their right to work and do all their own activities. Nothing positive was being accomplished with they way they were communicating.
I knew we needed to get below the complaint and uncover the deeper agenda , the more meaningful conversation that was layers below the complaint. We have all learned our relationship coping strategies in our childhoods with input from many sources. As we mature we need to learn better coping mechanisms than we learned as children and become excellent communicators if we want to succeed in relationships personally or professionally. What I mean by being an excellent communicator may not be what you think. Most people think if they are talking then they are excellent communicators, but that isn’t true, as there are a lot of unsuccessful relationships and unhappy couples in the world and they all seem to be talking. All you have to do is look at is the divorce rate at 59 % to know we are not as successful at relationships as we could be. Being an awesome communicator is much more than just randomly speaking.
Towards the end of the session it became much more clear that my client was really feeling sad and lonely, was scared their partner didn’t love them or want to be with them anymore, felt their strong bond was being eroded by a lack of connection and felt unsafe and insecure.
What my client really needed was more connection and quality time to reestablish their love because of the importance and value the relationship had in their life. Unfortunately the way they were communicating was only making the situation worse until we uncovered the deeper meaning and hope behind the complaint. My client was then able to communicate from a more vulnerable authentic place with no blame or criticism attached. Their partner could really understand how they were feeling and recognized how important spending time together was for both of them, and how valuable reassurance can be in restoring trust and a faith in their coupleness.
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Attachment theory says that a couple’s bond with each other is as important as the attachment between a parent and child and that
even as adults when we perceive that attachment threatened we respond emotionally in very much the same way as a child would. We tend to feel afraid, insecure and that our safety is under threat. It is a shame in our society that a lot of people go on the attack with their partners when they are actually feeling vulnerable. Attacking our partners and colleagues usually does exactly the opposite of what you would really want. It pushes people away instead of bringing them closer. Most complaints, criticisms and conflict are a cry for connection, understanding and love. This is why it is so important that you learn to understand your own feelings, needs and values that are below your complaints and criticisms, so you can express yourself in a way that will create more connection instead of disconnection. It can also be invaluable to understand when someone else is complaining that underneath it is a cry for something far more important. This perspective can change your conversations completely.
To be a really successful communicator you need to be able to understand yourself “6 layers deeper” and then express what you feel, think, need and value in an effective non-threatening non-judgmental way. This is what being radically responsible really means.
If you are unsure of how to express yourself, here is my 5 Step Simple System for Creating Successful Conversations.
1. Intention – Get clear with yourself on what you really need, not what you are expressing to others as the complaint.
For example: In my usual “messy teenage room saga” I could complain about my sons messy room but it isn’t going to help my relationship with him if I criticize him, call him lazy and messy and elevate the conflict to a war zone. If I am clear about my need for order and beauty in my life then I am taking responsibility for what I need to express. It isn’t about my son being bad or wrong and isn’t about him personally, it is about my own needs and values. So my intention in having a conversation with my son is to take responsibility for what I need and how I feel about the messy room and I might firstly say to him “I need to talk to you so we can find a collaborative solution for a problem I am having”
You must be clear before having any conversation about what you are hoping to achieve by having the conversation. In this case I was hoping for collaboration.
2. Fact – This is where you express the situation, what you see is happening, just the facts with no judgment
. Facts won’t start a conversation using the word “YOU” Using the word “you” implies wrongdoing. In my son’s case, I might just simply say “when I see clothes all over the floor”
3. Feelings – This is where you describe what you are feeling. If you don’t know how you are feeling you can check out my feelings list HERE. Your feelings are never wrong, they just are. I believe our feelings are an intuitive barometer for what we need, and can guide us to more understanding about ourselves, so don’t judge your feelings. Just let them inform you. For me in the messy room story “I was feeling anxious and uneasy”
4. Needs and Values – Here it is important to explain to others what your needs and values are. We all have needs and values and again if you aren’t clear you can find some examples HERE
There are 9 fundamental human needs, and not in any particular order:
- On top of these fundamental human needs we also have our own personal needs and values. In the messy room saga “I have a personal need for peace and beauty in my life”
5. Ask – Ask for what you need from the other person. You may get a yes or a no or you may need to negotiate, but at least it is a collaborative conversation heading for a positive solution. I asked my son “if he would be willing to clean his room regularly” and we negotiated terms that would work for both of us. I did get what I needed from my son because I used the formula, didn’t make him wrong, shared with him what I needed and why and he was willing to be supportive.
So I hope you can see the importance of communicating at a deeper level of understanding, and the positive possibilities it could create in your life. Who doesn’t want to feel more loved, happier and be more successful professionally? If you would like to know more about the Successful Communication Made Simple course and how to create more love, happiness & success in your life go
If you want help with your relationships please connect with me at
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