Is complaining a vice? Actually, when it comes to health, knowing how to complain - and when - are major virtues. Complaining the right way solves problems, curbs anxiety, and improves personal relationships. It can even help ward off depression.
That's the word from New York psychologist Dr. Guy Winch, the author of a new book on complaining called "The Squeaky Wheel."
Keep clicking to see how you can complain your way to better
Make a complaint "sandwich"
Sandwich your complaint between positive statements. The first positive statement makes the complaint easier for its recipient to absorb. The second increases his/her motivation to help. "Honey, I know you're trying to help, but you're still raising your voice. It's much easier for me to respond when your tone is pleasant."
Help your heart
Complaining is good for the heart. Studies of men have shown that bottling up negative feelings can bring chronic stress and even high blood pressure. Expressing negative feelings productively - in the form of a complaint - helps curb stress. So next time you're upset and stewing in silence, try saying, "I want to tell you how I feel about something. Is now a good time?" Then use a "complaint sandwich" to make your beef palatable - and productive.
Pick the right target
Don't waste time complaining to people who can't, or won't, do much to help. For example, if the source of your aggravation is a company, take your complaint to the top. Look up the firm's chief executives at the Better Business Bureau, and contact them directly. They're the ones who have the authority to address your grievance. Given the vital business information embedded in many customer complaints, they may even be happy to hear what you have to say.
Don't turn complaints into criticisms
Complaining to a loved one? Steer clear of words like "always" and "never." They're likely to make the object of your complaint feel defensive. "You left your socks in the living room" is more effective than than "Why do you always leave dirty socks all over the house?" or "You're an inconsiderate selfish slob!"
The Internet can help speed the resolution of problems you face as a consumer. Many companies now monitor Twitter and other social media for complaints - and often respond within minutes. Tweet your problem by using the company's Twitter handle - for example, @DeltaAssist. "Help @DeltaAssist! My flight just got cancelled, and I need to get to my sister's wedding!" Be sure to include your flight number.
Don't hog the conversation
A little give and take when discussing touchy topics with your partner goes a long way. In a 2000 study from the University of Arizona, marital satisfaction rose when husbands and wives took turns speaking about each other's complaints. If your partner shuts down or tunes out while discussing a marital complaint, pause and encourage him/her to take a turn speaking.
Make eye contact
Especially when it comes to resolving marital complaints, it's essential to make good eye contact. Gazing into each other's eyes during difficult conversations helps promote open-mindedness and good will. Scientists who study marriage have shown that when a husband maintains his wife's gaze while discussing complaints, both members of the couple are happier.
Put your blues to work
Feeling down? Pursuing a consumer complaint can give your spirits a lift. Gather your documentation, clear some time, and use the 3 P's: Patience, politeness and persistence. If the customer representative can't help, say, "I appreciate your efforts, but since you can't offer me a solution, I'd like to speak to a supervisor." Even a small victory can help you feel pleasantly effective and assertive - and boost your self-esteem.
Don't go overboard
Too much complaining can trigger anxiety and depression, at least among young people. That was demonstrated in a 2007 study of tween and teenage girls by University of Missouri researchers. Parents, try to help your youngsters limit the time they spend "venting" about their problems - and encourage them to add problem-solving to the discussion . "Okay, now let's figure out what you can do about the situation."
Raising your voice at call-center reps isn't likely to help resolve your complaint. Treat them with respect, and they'll be more likely to go the extra mile for you. Try phrases like, "May I ask your advice? What would you do in this situation?" or "I know you had nothing to do with this problem, but it's very important for me to resolve the issue. Is there anything you could suggest?"