NBC News – The Art of Complaining Constructively

Complaining constructively isn’t always easy especially with a myriad of things to complain about. The demands of a busy schedule and looming deadlines can drive up frustrations that are real, and venting can be constructive, even helpful, in acknowledging problems that need solving. But not all complaining is effective, and the wrong kind of complaining van make things worse.

I was asked by NBC News about complaining and how to do it constructively. I was pleased to join other experts in assembling this great roundup.

To read the full article, click HERE.



When gearing up to voice a complaint, it might seem like the logical approach is to harp on the undebatable facts of the situation — say, for instance, that your friend is late and kept you waiting … again. But Alicia Clark, PsyD, practicing in Washington, DC, says that the most effective way to have your complaint understood and yield a response that brings about change is to create empathy with the person you’re complaining to — or about.

“The difference comes down to whether you discuss the facts about a situation or your feelings about it,” she says. “And while this may seem a minor difference, it sets up a big difference in what you will receive from your listener that can, in turn, have a big impact on how you end up feeling. Facts invite your listener to think about them and agree or disagree, whereas feelings invite your listener to understand. When we are complaining, we are unhappy and want to feel better. We are looking for compassion and understanding, not debate and judgment. People want to know why something matters, and we are wired to respond with empathy when we hear people describe their feelings or why something matters to them.”

Say, for example, that you’re late to work due to unforeseeable issues with your commute. According to Clark, the way to talk about it with your boss isn’t to give a rundown of what happened, but instead share how these events impacted you. “Did you misjudge your timing and were frustrated with yourself by the route you took? Did you get distracted and leave later than you should have, escalating your worry? Did you kick yourself after forgeting to check Waze, and driving headlong into backed up traffic? Talking about how a situation impacted you, how you felt, and what you were frustrated about, gives your listener something to relate to when it comes to complaining,” says Clark. “And the more they can relate, the better able they will be to empathize with you and offer the support you’re seeking.”

“People don’t like to hear complaints, they want to hear your feelings,” says Clark. “Feelings promote empathy, which in turn promote feelings of compassion and generosity, both key elements in producing change. Make sure to tell how the situation is impacting you and how you are feeling (including your desire to find a solution). This will help them understand best where you are coming from, and how they can help.”

Utilize “the complaint sandwich,” where you stick your negative complaint between two positives.

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Alicia H. Clark, PsyD


  1. Becky on September 6, 2017 at 9:43 am

    Thank you. Your post are very helpful. Difficult marriage right now, after 10 years. He wouldn’t talk to me and filed for divorce. Still not sure why????Staying positive.


    • Alicia H. Clark, PsyD on September 6, 2017 at 10:05 am

      Hi Rebecca,

      I’m so glad my posts are helpful, but very sorry to hear what is going on in your marriage. Staying positive can really help when it comes to coping, especially when life feels so overwhelming. I’m hopeful you will get some answers about what went wrong in your marriage so that you can heal and grow forward.

      In the meantime, this piece may help.https://aliciaclarkpsyd.com/7-brave-ways-to-cope-when-your-spouse-says-they-are-leaving/

      Please feel free to access whatever other resources on my site might be useful to you, and reach out directly if I can be of further help.

      All the best,