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 COMPLAINTS AND CONCERNS: Is there a difference?


Many conversations have been centered around the increasing intensity of negative and conflictual discussions in our culture – on television, on radio talk shows, in social media, even in our interactions. There are so many challenges facing us in the workplace and community. Should school be in-person or virtual? Should sporting events reopen to the public? Should social gatherings take place, especially in numbers larger than 10? It has become clear that there are many areas in our lives that we can complain about.


We live in a time, now more than ever, where almost all of us can become overwhelmed with the amount of complaining we hear and the number of concerns we each have. This leads to the question: “What is the difference between a complaint versus a concern?”


Let’s begin with the definitions of both terms:

Complaint: something that is the cause or subject of protest or outcry; expressed dissatisfaction or annoyance about something

Concern: to be a care, trouble, or distress to; anxiety, worry


Complaints are generally self-focused. The complaint raised is one that directly affects the one who is complaining. Rarely do you hear complaints about actions or decisions that impact someone who has no relationship with the complainer.

Concerns, on the other hand, tend to have more of a focus beyond oneself. Frequently, the issue may impact the one sharing the concern, but there may also be worries about the results on others.


Complaints are usually communicated with a very negative tone and attitude. They may have an aspect of blame to them; sometimes, they sound angry, while other times, they can have more of a whiney tone.

In contrast, concerns seem to be communicated in a more controlled way, although there can be an undertone of worry and anxiety. Concerns are typically shared in a calmer, less volatile manner.


Complaints tend to focus on the past – a decision or action that has already occurred, although it may be a past decision that is affecting their life currently or will impact the near future. The emphasis on the past action decision seems to imply, “They screwed up, and there’s nothing that can be done about it.”

Concerns may include actions and decisions that have already happened. Still, the focus is more about the present and future, with an implied message: “Isn’t there something we can do about this (to keep negative results from occurring)?”


Complaints almost always focus the responsibility for dealing with the situation on someone else. (“They / You need to… ) Rarely does the complainer accept responsibility for having any part in creating the problem and, as a result, feels no need to offer to assist in resolving the issue.

Concerns, initially, may be “responsibility neutral.” The communication is (usually) primarily focused on the issue or problem and the potentially negative results. Who is responsible for the problem and who should deal with it are issues that are worked out over time as the problem is explored to see the real root of the problem. Then discussion occurs about the appropriate action steps to take.


Complaints often feel like they are coming from a closed mindset – that the person has already made up their mind and has concluded: “this is wrong.” There is no room for discussion about the issue.

Concerns are usually communicated with a more inquiring, open mindset (“I’m worried that if we don’t …, [negative result] may occur. What do you think?”) The person shares their perspective but also is asking for input from others.


Complaints tend to elicit defensive responses from those to whom the complaint is directed because of the style of communication and the extreme, blame-based wording often used (“You never . . . “ “They always . . .”) However, when communicated to other disgruntled individuals, complaints frequently create supportive (and possibly, intensified) responses. (“Yea, not only that, they never …”)

Concerns may bring about a variety of responses depending on the viewpoint of the other individual. Defensiveness may occur if they feel there is an implication that they may be to blame or do something to fix the situation. But sometimes, an agreement with the concern and a willingness to take a proactive step to address the concern may also occur. (“You are right. That is a potential problem that needs to be discussed. Who do you think we should talk to about it?”)


Take a moment to reflect on your actions, attitudes, and approaches when you communicate frustrations. Does your communication lean more toward complaining or sharing concerns? If it leans more towards complaining, think about some steps you want to improve your communication style.


Finally, guess what the most successful “cure” is for complaining? Gratitude. One can have realistic concerns and still be grateful, but complaining can’t last long when we take a moment and give thanks for all of the good in our lives (sight, hearing, daily food, music, the beauty of nature …. keep going!).


Blessings, Jackie (Director of Mental Health at Bost, Inc.)


Reference:  ‘Negative’ Communications: Complaints vs. Concerns ….


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