Dealing With a Complaint? These 3 Words Will Help

Author Dan Pink shares how to avoid overreacting to ugly problems and annoying complaints at work and in life by simply responding with three words.

Author: Michelle Russell       

Dan Pink

When people feel heard, author Dan Pink says, “a lot of times, the anger and resentment can dissipate, and a lot of times in talking it through, people come to a solution on their own.”

There are just three words we need to say to avoid overreacting when we are confronted by someone with a problem or a complaint, says New York Times best-selling author Dan Pink in his latest Pinkcast videocast newsletter. He came up with those words, he said, from reading two books — High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out, by Amanda Ripley, and The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, by Dan Coyle.

“When people come to us with a problem or a grievance, our instinct is to respond immediately,” Pink says in his video, “with an answer, with a solution, with an explanation, with a justification, with a defense. And what Amanda and Dan tell us is that might not be optimal. A better approach is simply to utter three words: Tell me more.”

The reason this “Tell me more” approach works, Pink said, is “at least twofold.” First, you learn more about the situation. The second reason this strategy is effective is that it makes it clear that you are listening — “you’re not opining, you’re not justifying, you’re not explaining,” he says. “You’re listening.”

At the heart of this is that while people want answers and solutions, they — we — also want to be heard. And when people feel heard, Pink says, “a lot of times, the anger and resentment can dissipate, and a lot of times in talking it through, people come to a solution on their own.”

So the next time you’re in a challenging situation like this, resist the temptation to jump in, Pink advises. Instead, sit back, say those three words, and see what happens. “If you do that, I think you’ll get a lot better at solving problems, reducing tensions,” he concludes, “and building a culture that you’re proud of.”

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.