Friday, 29 July 2011

Poor Complaining

Speaking only of what I know, I can state unequivocally that most people in my experience cannot complain properly.

Last night, it was my pleasure and my joy to chair a meeting (of a non-ecclesiastical nature) which was characterised by poor complaining. We in Britain just do not know how to complain properly. Simple fact. It is not a secular affliction either - for it certainly exists in Godly circles too. 

Some examples:
 - A man telephoned my emporium in London in response to a message that I left informing him that his mattress would be delayed by a day. He suggested that it would have been better had I too been in the World Trade Centre (for this was the day after 9/11)
 - A man, upon hearing that his carpet would not be lovingly  fitted to his spare bedroom on account of the recent snowfall offered to visit me with a baseball bat unless I hand delivered his nylon purchase in person.
 - A woman in a fast-food outlet, upon the painful discovery that she had been given a curry sauce instead of ketchup, suggested that the poor assistant return from whence he came - in a way that led me to suggest that he was intended to take a considerable overseas journey. 

These are a few of a very very very long list that I could offer after fifteen years retailing. I have been called "stupid", "an idiot" - simply because a lorry had broken down on a motorway somewhere. Brits cannot complain (I cannot speak for other nations). Incidentally, let it also be said that the customer is not always right, but is certainly rude from time to time

In church life, it is probably worse, because you don't get to hear of the complaint first hand or at the time. It is quite usual to hear a complaint 64 years afterwards, and eighty-sixth hand. In church life, a complaint is broadly made manifest by way of pout or that vile passive-aggressive stuff that I personally hate with some considerable passion. 

We can't complain well because we hate to be confrontational, and because we hate to be confrontational we overdo the rhetoric. We don't state our complaint, we wrap it up in a thick layer of value-statements, and quite often personalised comments made purely to cause injury to the recipient of the complaint. If it isn't passive-aggression it is over-aggression, and rarely anything in-between. 

I have wondered what the solution is. Partly, I think that we need not fear speaking our mind, so long as we are just stating what we feel and what we know (and not to add interpretations and unfounded opinion). Perspective is also important. Very often we lose perspective when complaining, and over-egg the pudding. Generally, a complaint accompanies a desire for a change in process or a more aggreable and appropriate outcome. Insulting the shop-assistant won't help that at all. Stating the issue soonest, as opposed to letting things fester over weeks or longer is always best. Then say it simply, not explode - people recoil and retreat in the face of explosions.

I think that what we tend to forget is that the person to whom we complain is, even with all due cynicism and realism, minded to want to help us or to work through the issue. We complain badly because we overlook that fact, instead replacing it is bile and shouting. Simply put, when you insult someone, they will stop caring what you think and will therefore not care to help a jot more. 

(and in my experience across 20 years, Christians are the worst offenders - and two of the examples given above we from the mouths of those who I later discovered or already knew to be church-goers)


  1. It's an interesting perspective on the nature and character of people. I have a particular thing when someone rings me up and launches into a script, which does not allow you to get a word in edgeways, particularly a word such as NO, I'm not interested in your..... Invariably, I am tempted to launch into a tirade of abuse, but have learned, long ago, that being aggressive or offensive is completely nurgatory and unnecessary. So, I put the phone down.

    I have found that complaining when something happens only really works if you are patient and reasonable and are prepared to see both sides of the situation. One thing is to be sure that you have not, yourself, contributed to whatever you're complaining about.

    As for Church, I've moaned occasionally about the time it takes to get things done, particularly in the discernment process. I can see the reality behind ensuring that those being assessed for suitability for ministry are the right people, but unnecessary delay can be disheartening to some. I've been fortunate to have been gifted the patience and peace with myself and the process to let it run, but others I've spoken to speak much more negatively about it. Which is sad and may well drive them away altogether.

  2. Here comes a complaint oh ever-helpfull one.
    A person of my acquaintance gave me some much-needed assistance with tidying up my blog and generally making the 'tools of the trade' more accessible.
    Sadly, this has resulted in my being almost entirely unable to get at my blog.
    The useful tab added at the top of my page produces only some spam and i have to revert to my 'old' system of approach.
    Now the person who so very kindly gave me this help is over-worked, currently rather stressed and should in no way be approached with my complaint (plaint), what do I do?

  3. And on occasion when I have been the complainer, I have found the "OAP" card helpful. At least it can help foreign operatives online slow down and speak more slowly!



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