When was the last time you gave someone a compliment?

I’ve noticed that people tend to complain more than they compliment, which bothers me on so many different levels. The old saying goes, ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease’, and people love to squeak, are quick to squeak – or so it seems.

I was recently asked the question (at work): What do you think people would say about your department if I asked them?

My answer was complicated. Essentially, it boils down to who you ask. There are a lot of people in the world and everyone is scrambling to be heard on some level. Who hears them depends on what they say and how loudly they say it. Some things carry more weight with the listener, like a complaint.

Complaints can roll right off your tongue, especially if the people around you nod their head. Popular complaint topics include: the President (whoever is in office, doesn’t matter), taxes, Windows, customer service, the company you work for, the company you keep, your local government, your family & your cell service provider.

I have an iPhone, which means that I use AT&T as my carrier. I used to have AT&T up until 2001 when I switched to Sprint because they had this new, awesome Palm phone that I wanted. I stuck with Sprint until I bought my iPhone a couple years ago (3g, not a 3gs). I never had any issues with AT&T before. I only switched to Sprint because they had a phone I wanted and I switched back to AT&T because now THEY had a phone I wanted.

My experience with Sprint was a bad one; network interruptions, dropped calls, lack of service, poor customer service. I can complain about them a lot. I have complained about them a lot. AT&T, who I rarely had issues with prior to my iPhone, I never really talked about. Because I was content with their service, happy even. There wasn’t anything negative to say so I didn’t say anything at all. (Sort of the reverse of the whole ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say…’)

I find it difficult to give compliments, even more so to receive them. But that’s silly and I need to get over it and so do you. In the context of the question above, someone complained about something that I am responsible for so it was a bit of a loaded question (As if to say, “What would they say?” and when you answer go, “AH-HA! But such n such said THIS! How can this be?!  Defend yourself, sir!”). In the mind of the asker, the weight of the complaint (any complaint) was greater than any compliments I have ever received – EVER (there’s a point there. See, people only remember the last thing you did for them – it’s a customer service thing. So, if you did ten over the top fantastic things and then something they didn’t like at the end, all they remember is the thing they didn’t like. It cancels out all else. Not exactly fair, but unfortunately, it’s how it works). It was urgent, it needed to be handled, we needed to fix it, to be proactive and a slew of other buzzy type words people like to use in this type of situation.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

I pointed out what I’ve said above, that most people are quick to complain, loath to compliment (that was the gist of it – did you get that from what I wrote above?) and the asker paused thoughtfully. A nod followed and the situation deflated rather quickly. The complaint was still there but it had lost some of its acoustic resonance.

Then I was asked for a solution. “How do we get the happy people to say they’re happy and maybe drown out the people who just want to complain?”

Figure that out, I said, and we’ll tackle peace in the Middle East next.

~P

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