Complaining is our pastime

I had lunch the other day with a couple of friends. It was great catching up with each
other. Joseph was not happy with his main course item. He was not satisfied with
explanation from the waiter; and wanted to escalate to Restaurant manager.

We all complain. We complain when there is a traffic jam. We complain when we
lose net connectivity. We complain if there a long queue at ATM.

Complaining has shades. Complaining out of desperation. Complaining because of
realization of helplessness. In general it stems from “Expectations leading to

Most of the times, if not all, complaining shows a sign of weakness. Weakness for –
‘acceptance of what has happened’.

Thinking logically (i.e. with common sense), we can generalize and enumerate all
possible scenarios that can lead to ‘complaining’ (surprisingly, there aren’t plenty) :-

– We had choice, but we chose what turned out to be ‘wrong choice’ (e.g. you
purchased a bike after doing all necessary homework but now the bike breaks down
– We had no choice (e.g. getting trapped in traffic jam).

It is as simple as that. And we all know it! Why do we still keep complaining?
Perhaps, as Dale Carnegie points out, “Our trouble is not ignorance, but inaction”. –

A lot of times when people complain, and the other person just apologizes, they can
just be doing it to make the person quiet – this may not necessarily be a victory on
the part of the complainer, but the other person has just chosen to pick their battles
and figures if he lets his client win this one, the next time around, when there is a
bigger issue, they will concede.

Your call is (not that) important to us…
According to the survey 67 percent of Americans sometimes have to “make a fuss to
get a problems resolved.”
And, nearly everyone – 94 percent – finds it “very frustrating to call a company and
get a recording instead of a human being.” And even if callers do finally speak to a
live customer service agent, the irritation doesn’t always end. Sylvia said, “Half the
time they have no idea what they’re talking about. And they don’t care. They’ll tell
you anything just to get you off the phone.” She continued to talk on her friend Jane’s
nightmare over repair request to Comacast.

Jane, a mother of two in her mid-twenties who inadvertently became a public symbol
of mistreated customers everywhere. Jane lives in suburban Chicago. She goes to
work all week and attend church every Sunday. She has a pleasant and welcoming
voice. She also has a strong sense of fairness.
In July, Jane’s digital video recorder wouldn’t work. She called Comacast’s customer
service line in Chicago but couldn’t get through. During the course of four weeks, she
called more than forty times. She was repeatedly disconnected, put on hold, or
transferred to inept or inert representatives and technicians. One customer service
representative transferred her to the Spanish-speaking line. Jane knows only
English. She just wanted someone to resolve her seemingly simple case.

She said she never raised her voice, but she was resolute. “Calling Comcast
became my second job,” Jane said. “I had to ensure the cordless phone was fully
charged and the kids were content. And I sat and called. I cooked and called. I
cleaned and called, and just called.” Almost every day, Jane prodded the big
company’s customer service department as best as she could. Finally, she found a
rep who heard her out and took her case in hand. A technician was sent to replace
her cable box at no charge, and she was credited with a free month of service.
Jane’s perseverance paid off. Her headaches seemed to be over. It was short-lived
Then Jane’s August cable bill arrived. Her name did not appear on the bill. Instead it
was addressed to “Bitch Dog.” Someone at Comcast had changed her name. Jane
said, “I was so mad I couldn‘t even cuss.”

All major social advances started with a complaint: Emmeline Pankhurst, Martin
Luther King and Nelson Mandela each brought about change by protesting that the
status quo was wrong and needed to be rethought.
Complaint has revolutionized society – yet it is now associated primarily with trial
moans and frivolous litigation.
In order to reclaim complains as a positive force, we need to know what we wrongly
compliant about, and why.
How to bridge the gap between how things are and how we think they ought to be.

Think of the word ‘complain’ and you’re likely to conjure images of moaning, whining
rants about trivial matters: the trains don’t run on time, people are so rude these
days, there’s nowhere to park, there’s nothing on the television. Complaining has
become a pastime of the resigned and the nostalgic. It has even become something
of a leisure activity. Complaining has become synonymous with moaning.

Many people are never happier than when they get the opportunity to complain,
while others are deeply unhappy with how things are, but just accept it. Complaint
occurs when we refuse to accept that things are wrong and try to do something
about it, even if that something is no more than articulating the fault. Few are eagerly
awaiting to see their names printed with the letters in published journals and

Although the precondition for complaint is a belief that things are not as they should
be, the mere recognition and expression of this fact are not enough for a fully formed
complaint to be born.

Why Don’t We Complain?
Victor narrated his experience. It was the very last coach and the only empty seat on
the entire train, so there was no turning back. The problem was to breathe. Outside
the temperature was below freezing. Inside the railroad car the temperature must
have been about 85 degrees. Vincent took off his overcoat and a few minutes later
his jacket, and noticed that the car was flecked with the white shirts of the
passengers. He soon found his hand moving to loosen his tie. From one end of the
car to the other, as they rattled through Westchester Country, they sweated; but they
did not moan.

Vincent watched the train conductor appear at the head of the car. “Tickets, all
tickets, please!” In a more virile age, he thought the passengers would seize the
conductor and strap him down on a seat over the radiator to share the fate of his
patrons. He shuffled down the aisle, picking up tickets, punching commutation cards.
No one addressed a word to him. He approached Vincent, who drew a deep breath
of resolution. “conductor,” he began with a considerable edge to his voice…. Instantly
the doleful eyes of his seatmate turned tiredly from his newspaper to fix him with a
resentful stare: what question could be so important as to justify his sibilant intrusion
into his stupor? He was shaken by those eyes. He was incapable of making a
discreet fuss, so he only mumbled a question about what time they were due in
Stamford (He didn’t even ask whether it would be before or after dehydration could
be expected to set in), got his reply, and went back to his newspaper and to wiping
his brow.

The conductor had nonchalantly walked down the gauntlet of eighty sweating
American freemen, and not one of them had asked him to explain why the
passengers in that car had been consigned to suffer. But when the temperature
outdoors is below freezing, it takes a positive act of will on somebody’s part to set the
temperature indoors at 85. Somewhere a valve was turned too far, a furnace
overstocked, a thermostat maladjusted: something that could easily be remedied by
turning off the heat and allowing the great outdoors to come indoors. All this is so
obvious. What is not obvious is what has happened to the people.

Ong joined the discussion – few weeks ago at a large movie theatre I turned to my
wife and said, “The picture is out of focus.” “Be quiet,” she answered. I obeyed. But a
few minutes later I raised the point again, with mounting impatience. “It will be all
right in a minute,” she said apprehensively. (She would rather lose her eyesight than
be around when I make one of my infrequent scenes.) I waited. It was just out of
focus — not glaringly out, but out. My vision is 20-20, and I assume that is the vision,
adjusted, of most people in the movie house. So, after hectoring my wife throughout
the first reel, I finally prevailed upon her to admit that it was off, and very annoying.
We then settled down, coming to rest on the presumption that: a) someone
connected with the management of the theatre must soon notice the blur and make
the correction; or b) that someone seated near the rear of the house would make the
complaint in behalf of those of us up front; or c) that — any minute now — the entire
house would explode into catcalls and foot stamping, calling dramatic attention to the
irksome distortion.

What happened was nothing. The movie ended, as it had begun just out of focus,
and we trooped out, we stretched our faces in a variety of contortions to accustom
the eye to the shock of normal focus.
But notice that no one did. And the reason no one did is because we are all
increasingly anxious to be unobtrusive, we are reluctant to make our voices heard,
hesitant about claiming our right; we are afraid that our cause is unjust, or that if it is
not unjust, that it is ambiguous; or if not even that, that it is too trivial to justify the
horrors of a confrontation with Authority.

Every New Year’s Eve I resolve to do something about the Milquetoast in me and
vow to speak up, calmly, for my rights, and for the betterment of our society, on
every appropriate occasion. Entering last New Year’s Eve I was fortified in my
resolve because that morning at breakfast I had had to ask the Waitress three times
for a glass of milk. She finally brought it — after I had finished my eggs, which is
when I don’t want it any more. I did not have the manliness to order her to take the
milk back, but settled instead for a cowardly sulk, and ostentatiously refused to drink
the milk — though I later paid for it — rather than state plainly to the hostess, as I
should have, why I had not drunk it, and would not pay for it.

The observable reluctance of the majority to assert themselves in minor matters is
related to our increased sense of helplessness in an age of technology and
centralized political and economic power. For generations, people who were too hot,
or too cold, got up and did something about it. Now we call the plumber, or the
electrician, or the furnace man. With the technification of life goes our direct
responsibility for our material environment, and we are conditioned to adopt a
position of helplessness not only as regards the broken air conditioner, but as
regards the over-heated train. It takes an expert to fix the former, but not the latter;
yet these distinctions, as we withdraw into helplessness, tend to fade away.

Mihir commented, cultural differences play into whether or not a person chooses to
complain – a lot of times depending on the environment/culture one has grown up in,
they may just choose to accept things as they are instead of trying to change them
by complaining or voicing their opinion- e.g. a lot of times my staff in Mumbai will just
accept something because that is what they were told and won’t question why –
sometimes this can be harmful to the business

If a client keeps complaining all the time, they lose credibility – often times in
business, we find that a client that complains about every single thing will no longer
get the type of service they demand or people won’t go out of their way to please
them as they figure they will complain anyway – pretty soon, they may stop getting
any service at all

When a complainer goes up the chain of command to make their presence known,
they could potentially be doing more damage than good if the complaint is minor and
does not justify the amount of resources – sometimes we will have a client demand
to speak to senior management if they don’t like the answer we are giving them – all
this does is the next time around, the person they are dealing with will be extra
conservative to avoid further confrontation

As a matter of fact, consumer society in many countries including Singapore is active
in escalating your complaint to the right level for resolving.

I guess in a nutshell, the lesson here is to learn to pick your battles
An editor of a national weekly news magazine told me a few years ago that as few
as a dozen letters of protest against an editorial stance of his magazine was enough
to convene a plenipotentiary meeting of the board of editors to review policy. “So few
people complain, or make their voices heard,” he explained to me, “that we assume
a dozen letters represent the unarticulated views of thousands of readers.” In the
past ten years, he said, the volume of mail has noticeably decreased, even though
the circulation of his magazine has risen. – William F. Buckley Jr.

The King’s Speech started out as an art house darling but now faces an outpouring
of complaints about its historical accuracy and artistic merits. This annual Oscar
backlash often stands in total contradiction to a film’s initial critical reception. But to
engender true hate, a film must meet 3 conditions and being the lead Oscar
contender is only one of them.

The Oscar backlash trifecta
We live in a society in which huge success always invites some form of
reexamination. Being the Oscar front runner and having broad critical acclaim are
sufficient to generate a minor backlash but the diehard haters show up only once a
film is financially successful as well.
The Hurt Locker had amazing critical acclaim and spent most of the month locked in
a tight Oscar front-runner race with Jim Cameron’s Avatar. But while Avatar
engendered a tsunami of hate, The Hurt Locker, even after winning, did not incur
much of a backlash at all. Why? The Hurt Locker was a dud at the box-office, making
only $17 million.

The King ain’t no Queen
The King’s Speech began with a small platform release and the best reviews of the
year, especially for Colin Firth. But the tide of good will swiftly turned as soon as the
film racked up 12 Oscar nominations and became a lock to pass $100 million dollars
in domestic box-office receipts. Newspapers ran stories decrying the film’s revisionist
history. [Steve Luxenberg of The Washington Post]

For Comparison’s sake, The Queen (2007), another tale of a British monarch (played
by Hellen Mirren) also began life as an art house darling, had numerous Oscar
nominations and early success at the box-office. But it was never considered a
leading Best Picture contender and it never experienced a backlash.

The joy of hating Best Picture Oscar nominees

The people who most relish surfing the waves of the Oscar backlash, are very
different from the media, as some whip themselves into a literal frenzy of abhorrence
about the films in question, even while happily admitting to never having seen them.

But why do some people love hating Oscar front runners with such unbridled

Oppositional characters
Some people are chronically oppositional and thrive on having any opinion that
represents the polar opposite of public sentiment. They look down on anything that
has wide public appeal, simply because it does. Since they only take a stand against
something after public consensus has been clearly established for it, their views are
usually rigid and uninformed. The trifecta of critical acclaim, financial success and
Oscar recognition are the ultimate in public approval. If everyone loves something
that much, they feel compelled to hate it just as powerfully.

Attention seeking and specialness
The Best Picture haters use the internet to seek out ‘lone objector’ status so they can
relish the attention it affords them. They frequent sites and message boards where
their comments are most likely to be in direct opposition to the majority opinion. They
attack the film and its fans flock to its defense, feeding the hater’s sense of
superiority by confirming that only they are special enough to see the truth about the
film’s failings whereas the blind and foolish masses do not.

What makes the behavior of these haters pathological, besides the irrationality of
their arguments (Avatar haters still claim the film lost money, despite it making more
money at the worldwide box-office than any film in history), is their huge
psychological and emotional investment in despising something that has no direct
impact on their lives whatsoever. After all, these are merely films. No stammering
British monarchs are running for local office.
Why We Complain About Meetings But Keep Having Them

Another meeting to attend, and you won’t get any work done again today! That’s a
common complaint in some companies, yet the schedule of meetings continues.
There have been some changes with teleconferencing and videoconferencing, but
the gatherings still occur with regularity.

A new study coming out from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte (Steven
Rogelberg) finds that even though 50% of attendees complain about meetings, more
than 60% of these gripers concede that they don’t mind attending. The most
surprising result is that an ideal day for many would include at least one meeting.

How can you explain the disparity?
Social: Meetings can be social events. It is not necessarily about what happens at
the meeting itself, but the give-and-take before the meeting when you actually get
out of your cubicle or small office and connect with others.
Filling Time: Another outlook is that it looks like you are working since you are in
attendance, but you don’t have to do much. You can look busy all day if you have
multiple meetings.

What’s the answer? You certainly do not want to call more meetings than necessary.
However, from a productivity standpoint, if you are in charge of a department or a
company, you might want to be sure that all of your direct reports have a chance to
interact at some point during the day. In some cases, you might have a short
meeting without the meeting agenda, a free-flowing exchange of updates and
challenges in a 15-minute session. You learn more about each other’s work and still
have more time to devote to your own projects while filling the need for conversation
and connection. – Productivity Today

Suresh Shah, Managing Director, Pathfinders Enterprise

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