10 Compliments for Every Complaint

A number of years ago I ran a mothers group at my parish.  It was the only one of its kind in the Diocese, and so the group drew from a large geographic area.  On the day of our February meeting, the weather was poor.  I checked the forecast and our area was expected to receive only rain.  About an hour north, the forecast called for some freezing rain and light snow.  In the morning I checked in with the parish office to verify last minute details and let them know that unless the weather changed drastically, the meeting was happening.  About an hour later my phone rang.  A woman who I had never met hastily told me her name and then started scolding me for holding a meeting that would require her to go out of her home in the snow (she lived an hour north of the parish).  She complained incessantly about what a poor decision this was, and then let me know everything else she disliked about me, the group, and our parish.  I was shocked and upset.  Later that day, a parish Secretary let me know that the woman had spoken the same way to her.  She then advised, “just brush if off, we get calls like that all the time.  People love to complain.”

And how true that is!  Complaining is a national epidemic.  In our rights-based, narcissistic culture, far too many grown adults and children expect every activity, event, or gathering to center around their desires and tastes.  We are quick to complain and very slow to compliment.  This not only wreaks havoc on our own souls, but it discourages others who are serving us and the community.

I tried very hard to just brush off that incident, but in all honestly, I allowed that woman’s call to ruin my day, and I felt discouraged in my leadership position for a long time afterward.  Sadly, that woman was not the first person to complain to me, and she wasn’t the last.  I approached our parish Priest about stepping down from the group, and I shared the feedback I had received with him.

He responded by immediately sharing all the positive things that were happening with the group.  And then he said something like this, “you get ten complaints for every compliment.  As the head of this parish, I hear mostly complaints.  You have to recognize the devil when he is trying to discourage, and go to God for encouragement.”

I wholeheartedly agree with this advice.  As a person who is quick to criticize others, I immediately realized that I needed to make some personal changes.  I needed to offer compliments, and I needed to do so at 10 times the rate at which I offered criticisms.  Running any community organization, whether it be a soccer team, a mother’s group, or a Church, is a thankless job.  I was going to be that person who said thank you.  The person who gave a compliment instead of a criticism.  And I’m writing this post to encourage you all to do the same.

Those in leadership positions, especially ministry positions, are a prime target for the devil.  And the devil uses our complaints to discourage those giving their time in service.  Because of this, we must do more than simply “not complain.”  We have a positive duty to encourage, and help fill their tank so they are better able to see the devil’s work in the constant complaints.  As St. Paul tell us, “(l)et no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.”  Ephesians 4:29

The next time you hear a homily you like, tell the priest.  When you love the music at Mass, compliment the choir and director.  Consider sending a letter to your parish priest and those in leadership positions letting them know all the things you love about the work they are doing.  Remind yourself to do this, because it is very easy to forget.

In your community, remember that any volunteer, at a minimum, can be thanked for giving up their personal time.  If a coach is well organized and sends out timely e-mails, thank them specifically for this.  Notice if the coach ends practice on time, and let them know you appreciate it.  Personally and sincerely thank not only the theatre director of your child’s show, but that mom who made all the costumes and that mom in charge of ticket sales.  Even if the show wasn’t that great, find what is good and say thank you.  That may mean telling the mom who painted the scenery how much you liked a particular part of her work.  But make sure you do it.  Let those serving you and your children know what they are doing right.  Be specific.

On the internet, when you read something you really love, tell the author.  When you see something you like on facebook, “like” it or leave a kind comment.  Again, be specific.  Take the time to really notice the positive things about your friends, family, and even kind strangers online.  Make the time to compliment and thank friends in texts and e-mails.  Remember the ten to one rule, even when online.

In your family, notice what your children are doing right.  When your son takes out the trash without being asked, notice and tell him you noticed.  Don’t nitpick at your child’s math homework and miss that she got out the book and started working on it promptly.  The ten to one rule is hard work for a parent, but the devil really is in the little details of daily life, and he uses our complaints and criticisms to discourage others — even our own children.

Likewise, help your kids realize their propensity to complain, and share that you have the same problem.  Try not to complain about others in front of them, but share compliments.  Help your children notice the positives in others.  Teach them to thank their coaches, teachers, and other parents.  Teach them that they can always think of something kind to say about someone serving them.  Even if they hated Grandma’s broccoli, they can tell her how much they loved her mashed potatoes and how much they appreciate her cooking dinner for them.

And remember, giving ten compliments for every complaint will not only encourage others, it is good for your soul.  “I tell you, on the day of judgement men will render account for every careless word they utter, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  Matthew 12:36-37





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  • Kat0427

    This is a great post, Kellie, I love all of your thoughts! After a summer spent with my kids, I am feeling the guilt of nit-picking with regards to them – they are probably excited to go back to school and get a little break from my nagging 🙂 I am going to do my best to remember the 10:1 rule as I help my 9 year-old finish up his summer reading/journaling assignments!!

  • Karen

    Both complaining and complimenting are catchy. We must be careful what trend we are setting! In an ironic way, this post sort of makes me feel free to complain when it is REALLY necessary. Understanding the same things you have said about those people in thankless jobs, when something came up that was a serious thing, I felt I didn’t want to be that one that complained. It just felt so whiny, but none of us have it all together, and I wouldn’t want something really inappropriate or hurtful to happen, especially when children are involved. To clarify, I don’t mean helicopter parent’s version of hurtful, I mean the logical, jaw dropping kind 🙂 Like the time I picked my daughter up for a church event early, it was lighting and they were swimming in a pool because the leader felt bad about making them get out after they just got in. I never said anything, at all. Yes, I need assertiveness training, but next time I will remember to say 10 compliments along with a real complaint. As a rule, I ALWAYS run a “complaint” by a friend first to see what they think of it. Let’s face it, we can all get in a “mood” from time to time! There is also a way to phrase a complaint that is more constructive, than destructive – phrase it in a question, but not in a patronizing way. Works for kids too 🙂

  • Reesa

    Thanks for the reminder!! 🙂

  • Twinsplus1

    Great reminder! With my kids, I always try to be sure the first time I see them (when they enter a room, when I go in to wake them up) I give them a loving look and tell them something kind. An easy one is “I’m happy to see you.” I never want them to have a sense of “oh boy, what is Mom going to get on my case about now?” And someone else’s post about it being catchy is right on. I now find that my first instinct with my husband is now to tell him I’ve missed him rather than to nag about something. And the kids in turn pass it on – I’ve seen them greet their cousins kindly. It is amazing how much can come from just getting off on the right foot!

  • Mary Alice

    I totally agree — but this is hard! It may depend on temperament, but I tend to see compliments as “inefficient” while constructive criticism is productive. I have learned, though, that criticism is better taken if you lead with a compliment, so that is one way to think about it — if you are known as a complainer, your complaints aren’t taken seriously.

    Also, if you can accent the positive behavior, the person tends to try harder in that area.

    There also needs to be a safe, fair way to disagree without complaining. For example, if that woman had called and said “I won’t be at the meeting tonight because I don’t feel comfortable driving in this weather,” and then you had poor attendance, you would have lived and learned, which is usually the best way to really learn something. I don’t think most people learn anything from getting yelled at.

    I have a super rational friend who I call when I am thinking about telling someone off. She usually helps me to either see that the thing is not worth fighting about, or figure out a more productive way to say it. I am also working on being direct but unemotional when I have an important thing to say, so that it does not come off as a crazy emotional female rant, and is easier for the other person to receive.

    With parenting, we try to have a 5/1 ratio of positive to negative experiences, because I heard a long time ago that you need that sort of ratio to see something as overall positive.

    When it comes to friends and others, it might be worth thinking that you might not be the one to give them 10 compliments, but if you give them one, they may get one from others, and it will help them to have balance in what they are hearing.

    I wonder how what we say impacts what we think/feel. If I go to a party and then get in the car and say everything that bothered me about it, I probably think of the party as unsuccessful. I am going to make a conscious effort, perhaps with my kids, to leave activities and say 10 positive things. I don’t think that this means being a Pollyanna, but if we can focus on the really positive things about others, we can strive for that.

    Also, I think kids really internalize what we say about other people, so when we criticize others in their presence, it hurts their self esteem, even though it is not about them.