“Stop moaning at me to put up that shelf.  I will get to it in my own time.”

“I have been asking for 6 years, darling…”

Quite a lot of my pastoral interactions seem to happen in the school playground.  When my children were younger, I was definitely at my worst at the school drop-off time.  It might be that one of them hadn’t slept well, or the other kept putting the brake on the push chair as we were walking so I couldn’t move it.  As the years have gone on, the school run has improved outMan with curly hair and a striped shirt looking very unhappy. Are you moaning, or is it your opinion? of all recognition.

I have some awesome chats with the dads and grandads.  I was given great “sermon fodder” by one last week.  He had asked what I was going to be working on that day, so I mentioned my Remembrance Day service.  He apologised after giving me his opinion with both barrels, but what he said really made me think.

Giving your opinion

We’d had a chat a few weeks before, where I was moaning about feeling I needed to ask the Year 6s to be more gentle with the little ones.  It didn’t feel like it was my place, but there wasn’t anyone in authority around.  After having listened to many of these children read over the years, they know me, but I don’t want to be “that parent” who tells them off.  I would have liked there to have been a presence from the school staff around so that it wasn’t my responsibility.

The friendly grandad agreed with me.  He was tempted to go into the school office to have a word with the staff.  However, he and his wife have regular discussions on the difference between expressing an opinion and moaning.  He did not want to be perceived as moaning about this situation.

Where does having an opinion finish and moaning start?  There are complex issues here: how is the speaker portraying their opinion?  What is the listener hearing?  Is it a general grumble? Is there a specific issue that can be tackled?

Here are my suggestions to make sure we are heard.

Suggestions so that we are heard

Suggest a solution.  Rather than moaning and groaning, find something positive to say.  “I’m not sure if you are aware that this is happening each morning.  I’m wondering if we could improve the situation by…” insert great idea.  Not only will the person you are speaking to have respect for you for speaking up, but will be more likely to improve things, even if they don’t actually use your concept.  The issue you have been facing may be resolved quite quickly.

“I’m hoping you can help me.”  Many people like to be rescuers!  I hate making telephone calls to people Yellow telephone on a side table next to a blue couch. Are you moaning, or is it your opinion?I don’t know.  My words seem to get jumbled up, and I sound like a fool.  (Answerphone messages are even worse.)  If, at the beginning of the call, I ask them for help, they seem to accept my inability to put a sentence together.  Often they know what I am asking before I have articulated it fully.

“I’m a bit confused.  I wonder if you can help to clear this up?”  A few years ago I was teaching whole-class violin in a village primary school.  I hear your horror – they did make a nice sound, trust me!  We were playing a game one day so I wasn’t expecting the music to be perfect.  A teaching assistant walked through the hall and commented on how awful it was.  In those days, this was not something I could laugh off.  I mused over it for a week, then used the question above in conversation with the headteacher.  She was amazing and had a word with the teaching assistant.  It didn’t happen again.

Phrasing our words carefullyTwo people shaking hands. Only arms and hands visible. Are you moaning, or is it your opinion?

So, finding ways to make our feelings sound less like moaning and more like valid opinion can work.  People will trust that we are not directly criticising them if we word it carefully.  In this way both us and them can leave the conversation as happier people.

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4 comments

  1. I think it’s a different point of view. My husband sometimes accuses me of moaning. Then I always reply that, hey, this was my day, I spent it alone, at home, with the children, they were handful, I can talk or complain to no-one else. It does feel like it too, that I’m complaining as listening myself – but this is how it is at that moment, I’m just trying to share my day and thoughts with the only person I had a conversation that day.

  2. I used to be a moaner due to tiredness but I have learnt that nobody needs that negativity in their lives, its my issue not theirs ha. But offloading to get anothers point of view is a tad different

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