Mindful Tips On Complaining Compassionately.

“Instead of complaining that the rose bush is full of thorns, be happy the thorn bush has roses.” ~ Proverb

For literally all of my working life I have been in a public service job of some description or another. As a teen I sold shoes in a shoe shop, then in my early twenties I joined the police force. After that, a rather dramatic career change saw me train as a professional healer and therapist, eventually going on to purchase my own spa . In every single one of those jobs, I have had experience of people complaining.  It is a natural thing that every human being does, even if we are super happy and very positive people, we still find ourselves complaining about something now and again.

We generally complain because our expectations of something haven’t been met (either a services hasn’t been provided how we would have liked) or some form of interaction with another human being has caused us to be irritated or unhappy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying people should never complain, sometimes complaints are very valid, and a necessary means of getting a certain view-point across. If you are on the receiving end of a complaint, it can also be an opportunity to acknowledge how you could have done things better or handled things differently. Sometimes negative feedback can actually make you more mindful or even aware of how your actions have effected others.  None of us are perfect, and sometimes we do make mistakes and fall short of what is expected of us. Just remember to try to always use the experience as an opportunity to grow or reflect positively on the situation.

In my experience in life, I have found many people either complain too much (almost like it is a habit) and many people don’t know how to complain in a way that is assertive yet polite and compassionate.

Many years ago when I owned a tiny little salon in North Kent, a customer had come in to have her nails done by one of my young, but very talented nail technicians.  She had been to me previously for a massage treatment, suffering with a painfully constricted shoulder. During this treatment it was evident that she had compacted muscles tissue, from a long-standing injury. A much deeper massage was required to help release this and for her to feel some benefits.  It was explained to her prior to a deeper pressure being applied that she would possibly suffer with tenderness of the effected area and that it may feel as if it was slightly bruised after the treatment (this is very common following deep tissue and sports massage techniques).  She said she completed understood this and was happy to go ahead with the treatment.

When she sat down to have her nails done a week or so later, she announced to my therapist that she had just been ‘up the road’ to another salon to have her toes painted and that she hadn’t been happy with the service.  She then asked my nail technician to match the shade of pink that they had applied to her toes to her fingers.  Michelle, my therapist explained that she wouldn’t be able to provide an exact match of colour, as the products that the salon up the road used, were different to the polishes that we used in our salon. She did however assure her that she would do her best to get a similar colour, so she would hopefully be happy.

Despite my therapist’s efforts to continue to be bright, cheery and professional, this lady then spent a very long 40 mins complaining about everything.  She went on and on about how staff up the road were rude, uninterested and unprofessional. She also made a point of mentioning how she had experienced a feeling of being bruised, following her massage with me, and how her chiropractor had informed her this wasn’t the norm (clearly a chiropractor that has no knowledge in the physical effects of sports massage). She grumbled, she whinged and she moaned wholeheartedly throughout her treatment. It was becoming increasingly obvious that she was having problems with focusing on any of the positive things she had experienced in her day or week, and simply felt more at ease about telling Michelle of all the things that were wrong in her life. Michelle, tried to reassure her that it was very common to feel tenderness following a deep tissue massage, but she wasn’t having any of it. She refused to listen to the professional advice she was being given, convincing herself, only she knew best.

After Michelle was finished, she asked her client happily if she liked her nails. This lady, lets call her Brenda, looked down at her fingers and pulled a rather dissatisfied face, saying nothing. In order to try to reassure Brenda that although her nails may not have been the exact match to her toes that she had wanted, Michelle still thought ‘they looked pretty’. It was at this moment we saw dear Brenda in her full crescendo of unhappiness. She literally took the roof off with her rants of how she didn’t expect to be told when her nails looked nice, how unhappy she was with the colour and how they clearly weren’t an exact match to the colour of her toe nails.

She was rude, aggressive, sarcastic and quite frankly, highly unpleasant to poor Michelle.  Technically, the nails were polished to perfection, she just simply didn’t like the colour (a colour which she had selected herself).  Poor Michelle was devastated.  She immediately said she was sorry that she didn’t like them, and offered to re-paint them there and then. No Brenda wasn’t happy with this.  So she then told Brenda the treatment would be free, as she was unhappy, it was salon policy she didn’t have to pay. No Brenda wasn’t happy with this either.  The more Michelle tried to do something to make the customer happy, the more she continued to become further more irritated, and finally, after insisting she was paying in a dramatic domineering manner, she strutted out the door with a self-empowering announcement of “you have lost a good client here darling!’ slamming the door firmly behind her.

Her whole manner reminded me of a spoilt child fighting for control of a situation.  At no point had Michelle said anything to warrant such an outburst of unpleasantness, in fact she had desperately tried to do everything she could to turn the situation around into something more positive.   She spent the next twenty minutes in tears in the staff room apologising for losing me a ‘good client’.  In my eyes, this lady was far from a ‘good client’.  She was in fact someone who was seeking attention, by finding fault in everything she experienced and then appeared to gain an element of empowerment and satisfaction out of being aggressive and rude to her young therapist, who was clearly upset.  For a woman who was in her forties, it was in fact quite shocking behavior.

That day Michelle learnt a very valuable lesson.  Sometimes despite our best efforts we can’t always do everything right. She also discovered, some people can be very negative with almost everything in life and will prefer to focus on all that is bad, rather the aspects that are good and no matter what we try to do to rectify the situation, some people are never satisfied. Generally I have found, often these people can also find it very difficult to complain in a compassionate way.

Have I complained in life? Of course I have, but I would hope I have never done it in a manner that would make the other person involved feel so awful and upset that it would reduce them to tears.  I certainly would never raise my voice or be sarcastic when complaining, that’s not empowering, it is in fact the complete opposite.

Looking at the bigger picture, is your complaint really necessary?

This is a tricky one I admit, because when you are unhappy with something we naturally feel as if we have lost out, or have been denied something we had expected to receive or experience. It’s even trickier if money is involved and as we can feel as if we haven’t received the correct monetary value for something.  However, take time to strip the situation right back. Before launching into a barrage of why you are unhappy, take a moment to assess the bigger picture of life.  Does whatever you are unhappy about really warrant a complaint, is it just something very minor or something quite big that you are unhappy with? Are you going to make a situation more positive or happier for you from complaining about it, or can you simply put it down to experience and a chance to learn from the situation.

Try and view the situation from a less judgemental stand point.

Always remain calm and mindful of how your actions affect others. Could you possibly be being quite judgemental in the situation as a whole, and this is in fact something that is adding to your unhappiness?  Were your preconceived expectations of the whole situation or the other person involved too high in the first place? Take time to assess the situation a little before you take action.

Remain calm and compassionate when getting your viewpoint across

When a complaint is warranted, it is never helpful or acceptable to be rude, aggressive or sarcastic.  End of.   This may seem like stating the obvious, but I have been witness to people complaining in such unnecessary manners over the years (particularly when I was in the police), in truth it seems many people simply don’t know how to approach the whole task of complaining. Many seem to think they are going to have a fight on their hands, before they have even mentioned their complaint. Getting yourself wound up before you  have even approached the subject, won’t actually help you. Even if you are feeling irritated, upset or angry by your experience, keep calm and polite.  Put your complaint in to perspective, and get your point across in a compassionate manner. This doesn’t mean you can’t be assertive by any means, remember being assertive doesn’t mean being rude. Never try to be-little someone in order to dominate the situation, going in all guns blazing, isn’t going to help the situation.

Be grateful if and when a solution is offered, because it means you have been heard. 

In the Brenda and Michelle situation, despite Michelle feeling she had done nothing wrong in the first place, she clearly acknowledged and accepted that her client was unhappy. Immediately she offered solutions to try to resolve the situation in a positive way. She wasn’t defensive, she wasn’t rude, she simply made the client know she understood she wasn’t happy, apologised and immediately offered something else as compensation in order to try to make the situation better.  At this point, despite Brenda’s unhappiness, I feel the compassionate thing to do, would have been to accept that her complaint had been ‘heard’ and that despite being irritated, she needed to try to acknowledge the other person involved was in fact trying to do something to help her.  There is no point dwelling on the fact the situation has happened in the first place, you cannot change that, but what you can do is to try and turn your attention into focusing on something more positive from the whole situation.

Focus on what’s positive in your life or the situation itself.

In the West I feel many of us are too quick to focus on the negatives of life. We work too hard, we don’t have enough time to ourselves, things cost too much, the weather is too cold etc, etc.  It’s a tricky thing to do, but we really do need to try to focus more on the positives not the negatives. When you start training your mindset to pick out the positive things from your day or a situation, rather than constantly focusing on the negatives, your perspective on life experiences will change, for the better. When ever I am irritated by something, I take a moment to centre myself, breathe deeply and try to remember I am actually very fortunate for all the things I do already have in my life. So what if the train is late, I am grateful I have a job. So what if the lady at Starbucks forgot to add sugar to my latte, I am in a fortunate position to be able to walk to the shop and buy a latte in the first place. Does it really matter that I am stuck in traffic for an hour, yes it’s slightly inconvenient, but is it actually going to effect my life as a whole that much?

I am pleased to say, that complaints are rare in my spa, but of course they still occasionally happen. Myself and my staff aren’t perfect robots and sometimes we may fall short of what is expected. I always tell my girls that these situations are in fact opportunities for everyone involved (including the complainant) to grow and learn from the situation. The trick is, not to dwell on the matter as a negative, but to in fact turn it into something positive.  If we all took a little more time to view the whole subject of complaining as a learning process, maybe we would all be a little happier.

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” – Buddha


1 thought on “Mindful Tips On Complaining Compassionately.

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