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Is that a complaint? — Your intentions will tell you.

One of the most common NoCo questions I get is, “Is that a complaint?”

It can be difficult to tell sometimes. And I’ve worked with several of you who are trying to eliminate all negativity from your conversations, but tough situations come up almost daily that put this resolve to the test.

I also know that some of you burst out when something is frustrating – and then feel bad about it because you decided to Go NoCo and yet, “Dangit*! There I go again!”

Sometimes, though, when I hear these outbursts, it’s clear to me that you’re not complaining. How do I know? It’s all in your intentions.

I know there are times when you’re feeling frustrated about something and it’s totally pre-occupying your mind. You keep trying not to think about it, but it keeps coming up, making it hard to stay focused on the person you’re with and the conversation you’re having with them.

In these situations, is it your intention to clear your mind of that distraction so you can connect with this person? If so, then that, my friend, is venting.

Venting is necessary. It’s healthy. It will help you re-connect. Feel free to acknowledge that you’re distracted and share what is distracting you. Then get back to the moment at hand.

If, however, you carry on past the desire to connect and turn the focus of conversation onto that distraction or onto yourself to the exclusion of the other person, now you have entered the land of complaining.

See, there’s a selfishness and disconnection in complaining. The intention “to share my experience in order to be more present” is missing. The presence or absence of this intention is my biggest marker for what is venting and what is a complaint.**

So the next time you’re wondering if what you just said (or what you’re about to say) is a complaint, ask yourself:

Is it my intention to share my experience and move past it?
If I say this, will it serve to help me connect with this person/this moment?

If the answers to both questions is, “Yes,” then by all means: Vent away! And then come back to the conversation with a clearer mind.


Please note: As a general rule, venting only needs to happen once. If you find yourself “sharing” the same experience again and again, you’re probably complaining. Of course, if it’s a frustrating situation that is happening again and again, you might want to re-focus your energies on problem solving or exiting that situation, or on changing your response to it. More on that in the future.


* Insert whatever outburst/expletive comes naturally to you.

**There is one other form that sounds like complaining but isn’t: Problem solving. However, this one is clear for most folks so I didn’t address it.

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