Why do people complain?

The act of saying that something is wrong or not satisfactory.

During my training sessions, I often proclaim; “Does anyone have questions, comments or concerns? I don’t take complaints!”

In my professional life, complaints came to me fairly often about a variety of issues be it from a co-worker, elected official, family member, neighbor, busy-body, hater or just an average concerned citizen; so, I now get to pick and choose when I receive one and I don’t want to hear it while I am having fun teaching (LOL). Nevertheless, when you really take the time to think about a complaint, it is a dynamic force and each one literally has a life of their own.

Let’s first examine what a complaint is so we can then discuss the topic of why people complain. According to the ProWritingAid website, ” The words complains and complaints are often confused because they are easy to mistype. But what is the difference? Complaints means expressions of discontent, pain, or grief when used as a noun. Complains means expressing discomfort, pain, or unease when used as a verb. A good way to remember the difference is Complaints has a T because they are things.”

As such, many organizations, especially local governments have developed processes associated with customer complaints that account for a large percentage of their service delivery and resource utilization. Ways to make complaints, the stages of the process, flowcharts, diagrams and even legislation has been passed to protect complaints (and the people who complain), their identity and their confidentiality. In other words, complaining is a big deal! Many organizations feel that complaints are an important way for management to be accountable to the public, as well as providing valuable insight to review individual performance AND the conduct of the people hired to resolve these complaints. A complaint response or resolution is explicitly or implicitly expected and, in some cases, legally required. Where complaints are handled properly, a good system can improve the reputation of an organization and strengthen public confidence; in other words, do it right and you will shine.

The desire to satisfy a complaint has become a part of our culture, and quite frankly, many folks who have regulatory jobs have a level of security in the fact that there are always going to be people who are unsatisfied and always a need to have someone try to “resolve” that dissatisfaction. Whether someone is expressing dissatisfaction, pain, uneasiness, censure, resentment, or grief; talking about pains or ailments; or making a formal accusation, someone (YOU) is paid to listen and “respond.” I challenge you to take it one step further and analyze WHY the complaint was even made OR more importantly, CAN it be “resolved”. If a complaint is based on resentment (or even prejudice or bias), can it ever truly be resolved?

Prejudice is often confused for discrimination. Prejudgment may cause a person to ignore information that contradicts their prejudice. This is called confirmation bias. 

So using your enforcement power to make sure the grass is cut in the neighbor’s yard, in response to a complaint rooted in resentment, will only get “temporary compliance.”

Complaint resolution for regulators refers to the process wherein complaints are recognized, and you as the official work towards an acceptable “end” for the situation. A complaint indicates a gap between expectations and reality. This is an important concept to remember. Sometimes the residents’ expectations or assumptions create a gap and it’s your job to find what works to fix it. It isn’t always pretty, but the goal can be achieved only when you address these queries, worries, or complaints from the perspective of John Assaraf who once said, “The most wonderful gift one human being can give to another is in some way to make that person’s life a little bit better to live.”

Published by Marcus Kellum

Emerging Leader and Consummate Professional.

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