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The hidden value of complaints

As a child, how many times were you told to “stop complaining”? If you’re like me, you probably heard that phrase more times than you could count. Complaining was often seen as a nuisance, an unwelcome expression of our dissatisfaction that disrupted the harmony of the people and environments around us. We were taught to equate complaints with negativity, often being reminded to be grateful for what we had instead of focusing on what we didn’t or what we could improve. This led us to believe that voicing our discontent was inherently rude and unnecessary.

However, what if we reconsidered what we were taught about complaints? Could our complaints and the complaints of those around us hold hidden value? Do complaints actually have a significance we’ve been taught to overlook or ignore? 

The hidden value of complaints 

Complaints are our natural responses to unmet needs or desires. When someone comes to you with a complaint, they’re often expressing discomforts, dissatisfactions, or injustices they’ve experienced in certain situations or areas. Sure, some complaints can come from a place of insecurity, exhaustion, or even jealousy. But, by and large, complaints can serve an incredibly useful purpose.

1. Complaints as constructive feedback

Complaints can provide us with powerful insights into how our actions or an organization's actions are interpreted by others. These complaints, when taken seriously and actively listened to, can then serve as valuable constructive criticism. For example, let’s say a customer or client complains that customer service isn’t meeting a customer’s expectations. This complaint may be unappreciated or even brushed aside if approached with the wrong mindset. However, when you begin to see complaints as constructive feedback, hearing that customer service isn’t meeting expectations offers a valuable insight into a potential area for improvement within your team or organization.  

Complaints can reveal problem areas or inefficiencies in our operations that may otherwise go unchecked. They can also uncover potential safety hazards or compliance issues and become an engaging form of risk management. Viewing complaints as feedback allows us to begin to identify weaknesses within our own set of responsibilities or within our organization and can instigate an environment of honesty and openness. 

When we acknowledge and accept the complaints presented to us, we open ourselves up to the possibility of positive change. Reframing our perspective on complaints, though, requires a shift in perspective–from viewing them as merely negative to accepting them as valuable feedback. 

The next time someone complains to you about the performance of your organization, a team member, or even you, try to look past the perceived insult and, instead, analyze it to help you determine how you can use the information to improve the situation.

2. Complaints as growth catalysts 

It’s not enough to simply listen to or be open to analyzing complaints. We must also act on them if we wish to make positive changes in ourselves and our work as a whole. When we view negative feedback as a growth catalyst, we transform that complaint from a frustration into an opportunity for improvement–both personal and professional.

Complaints offer us numerous opportunities for growth. We improve our communication when we engage in dialogue revolving around complaints or constructive feedback. We build up our problem-solving skills when we begin to address issues and make necessary changes. We improve our work relationships when we take the time to openly encourage and participate in the sharing feedback and ideas. What’s more, we might also significantly increase the quality of our work and that of our organization, when we address concerns–whether they come from inside or outside the company. 

By drilling down to the root cause of a complaint, we can enact meaningful changes that enhance our well-being and the well-being of those around us.

3. Complaints as motivation

Receiving complaints or negative feedback rarely feels good. In fact, it can be very uncomfortable or even embarrassing–especially when it pertains to our own performance or the quality or our work. But, by changing our perspective on the nature of complaints, we can view them not simply as constructive feedback or growth catalysts, but also as the powerful motivation we need to become the best version of ourselves. 

By using complaints as motivation, we propel ourselves towards becoming all that we can be. We open ourselves up to greater potential by taking the blinders off and seeing ourselves and our work from the viewpoint and feedback of those around us. So, the next time you’re given constructive feedback–and it’ll surely come– try to use it to form an actionable plan with specific goals aimed at creating a positive change for you, your company, or those around you. 

Honest complaints hold immense value. We can use the honest feedback of others to effect a positive change in ourselves and in those around us. Being willing to listen to the complaints of others can help us foster an environment of empathy and understanding, build stronger work relationships, and improve the quality of work. 

Leaders who learn to listen to and value feedback, whether negative or positive, typically become more adaptable to the needs of their team members and their clients.

For more on the value of complaints, view Carl Hicks as he discusses the power of feedback. Or, check out our latest blog posts made specifically to help those in leadership positions hone their skills and build a more dynamic work environment.

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