RL Practice of the Month

Tired of people coming to you with problems or complaints? Don't take the bait!

Tired of people coming to you with problems or complaints?
Don’t take the bait!


Complaining is a common form of reactivity, and complaints increase as stress levels, uncertainty and change escalate. Sometimes the complaints aren’t even about the subject being raised, but rather are attempts to let off steam and lower anxiety. However, complaints can be very helpful if they are delivered at the right time and in the right way.


When someone comes to you with a reactive, emotionally driven complaint use the opportunity to coach them around the difference between a productive complaint and a reactive one. Productive complaints are thoughtful, well-grounded in facts, take into consideration the bigger picture, and include possible solutions when appropriate.

Try It:

Within the next few days you will more than likely be on the receiving end of a reactive complaint.

  • Step 1: Let the complainer do some venting while paying attention to the facts that he/she presents. The key here is to allow them to let off some of their steam while not indulging them in an unproductive venting session.
  • Step 2: Report back a brief summary of the facts of the complaint as you understood them along with an acknowledgement of how the person is feeling (e.g. “This situation is really frustrating for you.”)
  • Step 3: Ask a question that puts the ball back in their court and helps them to think more clearly.  (e.g., “What have you tried already to remedy the situation?”  “What would help you to move forward here?” or “What might be your best next step?

Over time, people will learn that you are not open to unproductive venting sessions but you are willing to coach them.  If they are only interested in venting (and not moving forward), they will find someone else to complain to!