Have you ever been caught complaining by the person about whom you are complaining? If you have, you know that it is not pleasant. Putting someone through that is not very kind. The person who was being complained about most likely will have their feelings hurt or will become angry, so much so, that it can break the relationship. The person who did the complaining and got caught will probably feel terrible, especially, if the person who caught them becomes angry and yells at them or withdraws and never speaks to them again. I have been in both positions—the person caught complaining and the person complained about—and I would say neither is a good place to be.
I recently received an email from someone who thought they were adding a note to their supervisor as they forwarded my request about something important to me and within their job duties. However, the person pushed “Send” without double-checking to whom the email was being sent. Done that before? Sending an email to the wrong recipient is an easy mistake, made by almost everyone at one point or another. In this case, I sent my request to the proper person and the person forwarding my email was trying to send it on to the proper authority who would assess the request and either give or withhold permission.
All of that was attempted properly and would have been a minor embarrassment except for one thing: The person to whom I had emailed my request added a backhanded complaint about my request when forwarding it to her supervisor. When I accidentally was sent the email with the comment and read it, I felt small and unimportant. The comment was a complaint about people who make requests of the type I was making. I suppose that the sender was mortified when she realized that I had received the email instead of her supervisor and that I had read the complaining comment. She did not intend that I would see her remark, but having let the remark be made in the first place, she had opened up the door for me to know about it.
This is a “Gotcha” kind of moment. The “Gotcha” moment is usually a sudden revelation to the outside world of what goes on in an “inside” world. I caught sight of a hidden attitude, something that was only meant to be seen by those thought to be on familiar and acceptable grounds to hear it. Instead, the complaint was seen by the person being complained about. The recipient of the ugly-something comment was also its topic. But I wonder why ugliness is something that we are willing to show to our supervisors or close friends or family, but that we are hesitant to show to strangers, outsiders, or the people that we talk about behind their backs?
We already know that complaining about people or situations is not the best type of behavior and so when we are concerned about what people will think about us, we are probably more aware of what we say and do—and we withhold our complaining. One hopes that we are better behaved when we want to be! Perhaps being comfortable around our familiars makes us insensitive to the way that those on the outside would feel about our “insider” patterns of speech. I wonder about that, though: Are we being helpful to those who hear our complaints? Is that our loved ones, friends, coworkers? Shouldn’t we want to be a good example to them at the very least? Bottom line, when we are complaining—and I will freely admit that I am just as capable of falling short in this area as anyone else—we are not thinking about others’ best interests and we are not being kind.
Following the old adage for carpenters, “Measure twice, cut once” with a modern tweak to become “read twice, then send” is an important thing to remember in this day of instant messaging. You can’t take back what you’ve already sent. You can’t unsee what you’ve already seen. Before you press “send,” check that you have the correct recipient for your messages. I’ve sent texts about “dinner being ready” to colleagues, so I am guilty of this embarrassing error myself. However, aside from embarrassing messages going astray, you can say things that you wish you hadn’t. Adding a check to see whether what you are saying is stated kindly or whether it would be “ok” for people you are talking about to read that message, is a great idea in making the effort to bring more kindness into our worlds.