This statement “behind every complaint lies a commitment” was made by Harvard’s Robert Kegan, PhD during a seminar that David participated a couple years ago. This idea can be a guidepost for anyone seeking to interact with others as a Creator.
When we complain we are firmly placed in the position of a Victim. One would not complain if they did not feel victimized. At the same time, one would not complain if there was not something that they cared about. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t complain.
In The Power of TED*, a Victim is characterized as someone who has a dream or desire (something they care about) that has been denied or thwarted.
In order to help shift from Victim to Creator, acknowledging and reconnecting with the dream, desire or commitment is the first step. Then the focus can shift to taking action toward the commitment, by taking whatever Baby Steps are possible.
For instance, if a coworker complains about how slow Accounts Payable is in paying an invoice, you might first acknowledge their commitment to paying vendors or contractors in a timely way. Then, by shifting the focus to what they care about, perhaps you can explore with them how to streamline the department’s submission process to expedite payment in the future.
At home, if a teenager complains about their weekend curfew, you could acknowledge their desire for making mature and responsible choices. Perhaps then, together, you could explore how they might demonstrate their responsibility to earn more freedom in their choices.
As Creators, we focus on what we want, rather than what we don’t want (which is what the complaint is focused on).
By remembering that behind every complaint is a commitment, we have a means for decreasing the likelihood of getting hooked into the drama of the Victim and a leverage point for shifting the focus – ours and theirs – as a Creator toward an outcome.