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How to Replace Complaints with Connections

Will Bowen, creator of a million-person, complaint-free movement and friend to Oprah, called me recently while charging his electric Hyundai in the Florida Keys. Enthusiastic roosters were audibly crowing in the background, and the way he dealt with the situation was telling.

Instead of fumbling to hide the lively chorus, he embraced the present moment. He talked about how the Keys communities have been there for hundreds of years, and every time a hurricane rips through, chicken coops are torn apart. The freed birds then congregate where there is food and set up new, happy, feral lives there.

The result? His charging station was located at a grocery store parking lot that was replete with chickens. “I’m not talking a few, I’m talking 75 or 100,” he said.

Will took an unusual situation and made it into a story that is both fun and unforgettable.

So what WILL Will talk about at the CLE Annual Conference in Monterey (March 10-11, 2023)?

He’s going to talk about how to prevent or replace complaining with human connection. Post-COVID, complaints have ramped up in schools and educators hear hundreds complaints a day…from students, parents, and colleagues.

“I’ll be contextualizing this situation to help them understand that, even though the complaining has ramped up, the five reasons people complain have NOT changed.”

GRIPE: The 5 reasons people complain

GRIPE is an acronym Will uses to help people remember WHY people complain.

G is to get attention. “People complain to get attention,” Will said. “Parents, kids, everybody. It’s a way of beginning a conversation.” He gave an example: “It’s easy to complain about the coffee maker in the faculty lounge.”

R is for remove responsibility. “People complain simply to be let off the hook when given a task,” he said. “You’re asked to perform at a certain level, but you don’t want to. People will complain about circumstances around tasks as a way of lowering standards. ‘I would do this if it weren’t for XYZ,’” he said.

I is to inspire envy or to brag. “People complain to brag,” Will said. “It’s considered rude to brag, but you CAN complain about your good fortune.” Example? “It’s so hard to find a place to charge my Tesla!”

P is for power. “People complain to build alliances,” he noted. “To get people to get off the fence, to share points of view, you share what they are upset about. All media and social runs on complaining.” He’s got a point there!

E is to excuse poor performance. “This the past tense of removing responsibility,” Will explained. “They were given a task, and they did not do a good job, but they don’t want to take responsibility.”

We all can probably relate to experiencing both sides of this list at one time or another!

In his general session at the conference, Will will explain what to say to counter each circumstance and move your culture from complaint to collaboration.

And if you want a bit more in the meantime, Will recommends watching his video, For Teachers Only: How to Win Over Angry and Complaining Parents.

“If you can keep in mind that people are complaining to get unmet social needs met, that helps,” Will said. “They are not feeling significant, empowered, prosperous, or connected, so they are therefore complaining. A complaint is not a personal attack. It says more about where the other person is than it does about you.”


See you in Monterey!

Katie Sandberg

Director of Marketing & Innovation

California League of Educators

P.S. Get Will's FREE ebook with conference registration!

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