If you have a need, I'll take it on for you. Got a complaint? Don't worry, I'll solve it for you, without you having to do anything else. I do this everywhere, and am generally not even aware that I'm doing it.
Ultimately, this is about me. I want you to like me. I need you to like me. Now that I can see it, all of the places in which this transpires are so clear to me. When I invite people out for drinks or dinner, I go all over the place to make sure they're having a good time.
Have you ever had that experience where you're at a party, and rather than being present and enjoying yourself, you are actively keeping tabs on everyone in the room?
You might be having a good time and laughing at the joke I just told you, but in between that, I'm looking behind you at the person sitting by themselves, noticing that our snacks are getting low, worried about the fact that my friend that likes India Pale Ale (instead of the more delicious, vastly superior, maltier beers) is over and I didn't buy anything he might enjoy, and concerned that I may have talked to you for too long and am starting to bore you.
One of the magical things about me is that I manage to take on all of this. I'm not boasting, I'm simply stating a fact. I actually ensure that all of these things gets handled, and all it costs me is every single moment of presence. It's exhausting.
Let's shift the focus to leadership. In this realm, this pattern of mine costs the people I lead and coach a great deal. They never develop their ability to make powerful requests around what they want, because I'm subtly training them that all they have to do is complain. You've worked with people like this, right? They complain about their situation, rather than actually being at cause to generate something different.
It's not that they are bad people, or wrong for doing it; it's simply that they've been trained that this is the safest way to get what you want.
[Tweet "There's nothing wrong with complaining — it's just time to realize that it's not going to create any change by itself."]
The dynamic shows up in my relationship too. Growing up, Bay was raised never to ask for what she wanted. Complain about something enough and eventually it would get resolved. This strategy ensures that she never has to actually ask for what she wants (because if you do that, you may be told no).
Her and I are a perfect match. She doesn't make requests, and I ensure that she doesn't have to. This leads to all kinds of frustrating dynamics, like her never stepping in to herself and owning what she truly wants, and me never really getting the benefit of knowing what she actually wants (what I learn are progressively more things that she doesn't want).
This isn't a criticism of Bay at all, just a distinction about our own patterns and how our two survival mechanisms combine to create the dynamic in our relationship. (For the record, Bay has been doing a significant amount of work in this exact area).
So now my work becomes doing what I'm worried about most: not responding to your unspoken request, until you actually speak it. To some people (and especially myself) it comes off as callous and uncaring. But that's only because these people don't have a facility with asking for what they want. Just like I don't have any facility in letting someone have a complaint and not needing to do anything about it.
There's nothing wrong with complaining — it's just time to realize that it's not going to create any change by itself.
Where do you use complaining as a way of subtly making requests? What are you currently complaining about in your life? What is the request that might make that complaint go away, if only you were to ask it?
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