Verbal Viruses / by Jim Grant


Picture: Deaf Sign for Help


Anyone dealing with complaints and complainers knows the energy and time they rob from us and organizations where they work. Rather than complain about complainers here’s a practice you can use to move complaining into action and undercover the request behind the actual complaint.

An employee is behind in an important training project and offers their boss provisional reasons for reasons of what they see as their complaints:

“I’ve got too much to do and no time to do it”. “I need your help”.

“I need more time to complete this project”. “What was promised” or“What are your priorities” 

This is impossible, it can’t be done”. “I need more information or collaboration”.

The following is a hybrid coaching practice adapted from my early days of coaching middle managers. It helps focus quickly on the complaint story by understanding the hidden request.

There are keys things to be mindful of. Requests can be accepted, denied or negotiated.

Try this: Write down two complaints you have. Now write down two complaints you have observed from others. In each case, see if you can uncover the request that needs to be made?

Not Asking – Sounds too simple doesn’t it? People complain to themselves or others but don’t actually come out and ask. Reasons may be shyness about asking for help, worry about the imposition of asking, or a fear the request will be refused.

Unexpressed Expectations – Our private conversations very often focus on what others ‘should’ or ‘should not’ do. We find ourselves stuck and closed to making a request at all. Later, if that person doesn’t do what we expect, we’re disappointed, resentful and frustrated. Silly but still true…

Lack of Clarity – How can someone know what we want if we don’t ask? Success means being concise and specific about our request. It’s not insulting to make a clearly defined request that sets the stage for mutual satisfaction. How to do it? Begin with the statement, “I have a request?”

Moods of Requesting – Do you know anyone who makes a request feel like a demand? Or someone asking as though begging for a favour? Failing to acknowledge the request principles does not respect the moods of the person you are asking something from. Tentativeness is asking not to be taken seriously.

Activating The Observing Self – For the next two weeks observe and note your complaints.

Reflect on: 1. What is the hidden request? 2. What is your non-conscious belief about making the request?

Daily Practice – Try and understand your current way of thinking about requests with yourself and others. See if you can discover what happens around you as you go through your day?


Jim Grant is a Leadership and Executive Coach living in Helsinki, Finland.

Are you looking for someone who can help you design a daily practice for you and with you?

Give him a call at +358 40 178 1030 or e-mail:

Posted in Yleinen.