Sure, everyone needs to vent once in a while. But being a compulsive kvetcher can hurt your mood and send people running. On the flip side, “complaining strategically, and in moderation, can actually be effective in bringing about desired outcomes,” says Robin Kowalski, PhD, professor of psychology at Clemson University in South Carolina. This plan will help you learn which woes matter and which don’t—and how to speak up to achieve results.
Monitor yourself. Start by figuring out how much you complain, as well as what tends to set you off.
Stay aware. Keep a hair tie on your wrist and switch it to the opposite arm every time you grouse.
Mind your mood. Write down each complaint, the person you expressed it to, and your mood before and after.
Read the patterns. When the week ends, scroll through your list. Did you curse every time your neighbor mowed the lawn at 6 a.m.? Was your work BFF your go-to listener when you lamented about your boss? Spot common themes so you can tackle the underlying problems.
Pick your battles. There are two basic types of complaints, says Kowalski—expressive, which are cathartic and let you get something off your chest, and instrumental, which help you find a resolution. The goal is to make fewer of the former.
Sort it out. Separate your gripes from week one into “expressive” and “instrumental” piles. Then rank the complaints in each pile in order of importance to gain a better idea of which comments seem trivial to you now.
Keep count. Tally your groans daily and aim to slash the number by a third each day. (That means biting your tongue when you reach the limit, so choose wisely!)
Go cold turkey. At week’s end, try to make it a full 24 hours without grouching. Need to vent? Do so in a journal. (Tip: Tell pals to cut you off if you start in.)
Get your way more. Now ensure the times you do need to complain are as productive as possible. “When you can complain effectively and get a result, even if it’s just lowering a late charge, there’s something very empowering about it,” says Guy Winch, PhD, author of The Squeaky Wheel.
Have an end goal. Think of your ideal solution to the problem. If you can’t come up with one, move on or journal.
Choose your audience. Speak with the person who’s most likely to help you fix the issue; e.g., if you’re unhappy with a product, call customer service instead of your spouse.
Practice the dialogue. First validate what the other person may be feeling, then politely explain your problem. If you’re frustrated that your husband never gets up with the dog, tell him, “I know it’s tiring, but it would make my days easier if you shared this chore with me.”