“There is a world of difference between a complaint and a criticism. A complaint only addresses the specific action (…). A criticism is more global -it adds on some negative words about your mate’s character or personality. (…) A criticism ups the ante by throwing in blame and general character assassination.” (Gottman, J.M. and Silver, N., The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, 1999, p. 27-28)
The first step, appreciation, builds a context of turning toward. It conveys the message “Hey, I really like you and I value our connection.”
The second step, expressing regret, tells “I want to learn how to be a better friend to you.” You own your responsibility for the dynamic of the relationship and you acknowledge your contribution to needs unmet.
The third step is an invitation for your friend to reflect how her behavior might have contributed to your needs being unmet.
Complaints follow the same pattern as any other NVC-expression:
- Observation: the specific action you refer to, as factual as a robot would describe, had he been in the room. Without judgments, evaluations or interpretations.
- Needs that were unmet. Needs are universal, strategies are local in space and time. We all want love, acceptance, belonging, autonomy, safety, purpose, etc. We chose different strategies to meet those needs. Some might meet their needs for purpose and contribution by working for Amnesty International, others by designing a high-performance, light-weight car wheel.
- Feelings that arose from those needs being unmet, like anger, sadness, fear, disgust, contempt, surprise or flavors of those. Feelings often have a physical experience. Pseudo-feelings have a thought mixed in with them, usually blame about how someone did wrong. Pseudo-feelings could be: neglected, ignored, disrespected, violated, put down.
If you combine these three NVC-elements, your complaint might sound something like this: “When I came home last night and saw two plates and a pot with food remains in them, I felt sad and irritated, because I have a need for support. You could end your complaint with a connection request: “What did you hear me say?” or “How does that land for you?”
Because your message starts with an observation the other person can confirm, you are less likely to trigger a defensive response. Your roommate would probably agree that that’s what she left behind. When you would say “The kitchen was a mess” or “You are inconsiderate and egoistic.”, she might start to argue. Feelings and needs help your roommate understand your reality: these are the feelings I have (instead of pretending my thoughts about you are the truth) and those needs are important for me. This invites your roommate to empathize with you. “Oh, I didn’t know you cared about a clean kitchen and wanted support.”
I’m curious to read how translating your criticism into a complaint changes your relationship.
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