Subscribe to our Blog!


Ingrid Martine and Rick Maurer - The Un-Game Book Interview

Isn’t It High Time to Love Complaints?

13-10-22 Isnt it high time to love complaints blogUn-Game Principle: Few communications are as they seem. We must separate the wheat from the chaff.

What? Surely you jest. True, complaints are part of life, but so are mosquitos and people under the influence of road rage.

Not so fast. There’s a secret gift in every complaint, and if you’re a manager, leader, parent, teacher (as I said, a manager), you will want to reconsider and not wish the complaint away. Trust me on that one.

OK, so why not? They’re such a pain in the butt, aren’t they?   Yes and no. Yes, if you see complaints the way most people do, and No, if you want to interact with others as a Creator rather than a Reactor. If you long to be an effective manager and/or an effective communicator, then it’s high time to love complaints.

My mentor, Harvard’s Bob Kegan, makes this statement: “Behind every complaint lies a commitment.” Wow. That’s huge! And most of us have just seen the complainer as a whiner who’s never integrated the explicit or implicit feedback that s/he’s a victim. But of course. One wouldn’t complain if one didn’t feel victimized. But feeling victimized is not the same thing as taking on the identity of a perpetual victim. It can be a temporary state of mind. And what it reveals is that there’s  something the complainer cares about as well. In short, if they didn’t care, they wouldn’t complain.

It could be said that someone who feels victimized is someone who has a longing, dream, or commitment that has been denied, thwarted, or compromised. As a manager, knowing this is important, because you can help the person reconnect with the longing, dream, or commitment. If you don’t know that

a. the longing, dream, or commitment is in the background of the complaint; and

b. surfacing the same is the first step to creating a meaningful interaction that builds relationship and competence

then you’re missing a golden opportunity to be the catalyst for developing  your people , that is, moving them from being a reactor to being a creator.

And being a catalyst is a large part of your job.

So for example, if a tech support person complains that a client keeps on calling over and over about the same thing and doesn’t implement recommendations, you might first acknowledge their commitment to solving clients’ problems. Then by shifting the focus to what they care about, you could explore together how to assure the client and the support person have the same understanding of next steps by the end of the interaction.

At home, if a teenager complains about their friends having things they wish they had but don’t, you could acknowledge how important community is and their desire to be part of a community. Perhaps then you could explore not only the privileges of being in community but the responsibilities. Along the way you could explore how your teen might earn one of the things s/he longs for.

As creators,  we focus on what we want, rather than on what we don’t want. The complaint on the other hand always focuses on what we don’t want and keeps us in a negative, unproductive space.

As if knowing that behind every complaint is a commitment,  is not benefit enough for the manager who longs to be effective, there’s a huge personal benefit that accrues to managers  who are willing to develop their people. The benefit I’m talking about is personal empowerment and therefore personal freedom.

If you can routinely spot the commitment that’s behind a complaint…and if you can surface it and redirect it, you will decrease more and more the likelihood of YOU getting hooked into the drama of the victim. I suspect that one of the reasons most of us hate complaints and dislike complainers is because we don’t like how we deal with them. Our options seem limited and dissatisfying.

If we get reeled into the complaint without being able to surface the commitment, we get entangled in a role that doesn’t work toward becoming a creator. We become reactors ourselves. There are three roles in the reactor mode. They are Victim, Persecutor/ Oppressor, and Rescuer.  You can see from their description why none of these roles supports problem-solving  or building solid relationships. This is the dreaded Drama Triangle. Dr. Stephen Karpman first articulated it in the 1960’s. It depicts the toxic interplay of the three distinct roles (victim/persecutor/rescuer). We may talk about this another time, but you can see that when you see the secret gift within a “victim’s” complaint, you are NOT in the Drama Triangle.

Isn’t it high time to love complaints?

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, Coach and author of The UnGame , Four-Play to Business as Unusual, a show, not tell tool for coaches, managers, and teams, works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:, or connect with Ingrid at: and

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *