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Needs, Complaints, and Personal Responsibility

I published a different version of this article at the start of 2013. Last week, Philly Burbs, an online media outlet for whom I write a regular blog, published this version and it got quite a response. Seems like the ideas herein really struck a chord for a lot of people, so I wanted to share it here with you. Enjoy!


That old saying, “misery loves company” is, unfortunately, very true. Somehow we feel a smidge-bit better when we confer our misery onto others.

I’ve noticed that misery-sharing and complaining have become ‘comfort zones’ that are tolerated and even accepted in many families and workplaces. Yet, in the long run, complaints do not lead to forward movement or to change in the undesirable circumstances.

Think about this: behind every complaint is an unmet need or expectation. When I complain about something I don’t have, something that didn’t happen, what someone did or said, etc, etc, I am feeling dissonant; something I was hoping for or wanting DID NOT occur.

This is important to be aware of. My complaint is not so much about that other person or situation as it is about me and my unmet need or expectation. For example, I notice myself complaining, “I’m tired of you always being late for our meetings.” What’s really going on under my complaint is that I feel disrespected because starting late wastes my time. What I want is to feel that you value my time and that you value ME.

I must change my complaint, “I’m tired of you always being late for our meetings,” to a more empowered statement; a statement that clearly expresses my need, is honest, and asks for you and I to both take personal responsibility:

“It’s important to me that we start our meetings at the agreed upon time. How can we work together to do a better job with that?”

This is a more personal and vulnerable way to engage with another. Complaining about them or to them, is the easy way out. Reaching inside, connecting with what I really need, and expressing that in a clear, non-judgmental way, requires a much higher degree of self-awareness. And a willingness to reveal myself to another person.

When you take the lead in this higher level of honest communication, you make it safe for others to do the same. Over time, you will normalize such crucial, yet disappearing, honesty as:

  • I need your help
  • I made a mistake
  • I want for us to ________
  • I need for us to ________


Light the way for more authenticity and connection in your home and your workplace. Your vulnerability is empowering to others!

Here is an exercise to help you make clear requests for what you want and need

  1. Start by raising your own awareness. Pay attention to the things you complain about to yourself and others.
  2. Write down your complaint. Read it aloud to yourself. What do you feel or notice when you say it aloud?
  3. Can you connect with your deeper need? What is it that you were expecting or hoping for that is not happening?
  4. Think through ways to express your need or expectations. Use clear, non-judgmental language.
  5. Start your sentence with “I have a request”; “I would like…” or “It’s important to me that…” Be careful NOT start your sentences with “You need to…” or “You don’t” or other You-statements that often trigger defensiveness or deflection.


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De Yarrison

De is a certified professional Coach, Teambuilder and Facilitator of positive change. She is an adventurer in the world of relationships, blazing new trails of positive expression, resulting in happier leaders, employees, workplaces (and families).
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