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How to bring a complaint to your relative using a kind approach

Sometimes life puts you in the middle of conflict, frustration, and arguments. 
This tool is intended to be used to avoid an argument, so only use this when things are calm and not during the argument.  Using this tool is an effective way to address the underlying conflict in a safe and healthy way.  It may seem against your usual judgement. However, if talking about a conflict with someone often leads to anger, then this tool may help you. 

1. Begin the conversation by commenting on how they have improved in the area you want to complain about.  It’s always important to start with the good. For example:
“I can tell that you’ve tried to understand me more and I really appreciate that.”

2. Look for pockets of innocence where it may not have been all their fault. This is where you try to give them the benefit of the doubt by commenting on factors that may have influenced their behavior, such as things from their past, their current circumstances, etc. For example, “I know in your home growing up criticism was common, so you don’t mean to sound as critical as it sounds to me.”

3. Discuss your possible contribution, if any. For example, their behavior may be extra hurtful to you because it goes against values from your upbringing. Or maybe their behavior triggers an emotional wound from your past, which makes you have a stronger reaction to their behavior compared to if you didn’t have those painful experiences in your past. For example, if you were not allowed to express verbal opinions when you were growing up, then it may be extra hurtful when you don’t have a voice with your partner. Or maybe you’ve done something directly that may have influenced their hurtful behavior in response. For example, perhaps you’re upset because they didn’t consult with you before making a large decision, but perhaps historically you’ve not had an opinion to their ideas, which has made them not feel like they want to tell you.

4. Express your complaint.

-You should not say the word “you” because it’s accusatory.

-Avoid using the words “always or never” because they are generalizations.

-Identify your tender emotion that has caused you to feel your anger, such as hurt, sad, lonely, scared, insecure, etc. People naturally respond with empathy when they hear your tender feelings rather than anger.

-Identify and express your core need causing the complaint you want to make. Some common core needs include the need for security, to have a voice, to feel wanted, to feel cherished, to feel like a partner, to feel respected, etc.

Putting it all together

Example: Let us imagine you want to make a complaint that your partner hasn’t given you enough attention over the past week. It would sound like this. “First, I just want to say that I recognize your efforts of giving me more attention over the past few months and I really appreciate it. Second, I know in your home growing up quality time wasn’t a value and therefore it’s not your natural tendency to give me attention. I also know you’ve been extra busy with work lately, so you’ve been distracted. Third, I also know that when I don’t feel I am given attention it stirs up an emotional wound for me. That is because when I was growing up my parents didn’t give me enough attention, so I have a strong reaction to this topic. My feelings were hurt this past week because I didn’t receive much attention and it made me feel sad and lonely and it touches my core need of wanting to feel wanted and appreciated.”

The ideal response you would want to hear from the person you are talking to when you use the “soft start up” tool is empathy and action.  Here’s an example of the ideal response you would like to receive from the person you gave the complaint to, as in the example above.

“It makes sense you would feel sad and lonely that I didn’t give you much attention this past week. I can see how that would touch your need to feel wanted and appreciated. How about I stop work early tonight and we can have some quality time together.”

*Used with permission from Dr. Wyatt Fisher Psy. D., whose credentials include a Masters and Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. He is a Licensed Psychologist in the state of Colorado where he been in private practice since 2004, specializing in marriage counseling. www.drwyattfisher.com

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