The Squeaky Wheel

How to protect your psychological health, improve your relationships, and enhance your self-esteem.

Do You Speak Up When You Should?

Facing down your trepidations.

Do you stand up for your rights when you've been treated unfairly? Do you speak up when you don't get what you pay for? Most of us would probably say we do but the reality is only a small minority of people complain effectively enough in such situations to get the result they deserve. How small this minority actually tends to be-is nothing less than shocking.

Studies show that when dissatisfied with certain purchases, a staggering 95% of people will not complain to the company in question. This means less than 5% of people complain well enough to get the refunds, replacements, discounts, or credit we actually deserve. As consumers, we are forgoing millions of dollars a year simply because we fail to speak up and complain effectively.  

A Real Life Example of Mass Complaining Impotence

Frankie Boyer is a radio personality, artist, and host of The Frankie Boyer Show which is syndicated in many major markets. Last week, Frankie invited me on her show to discuss the psychology of complaining and how to do so productively. I planned to talk about how we now face what I consider to be a societal epidemic of ineffective complaining--but Frankie beat me to the punch. A recent incident in her life provided the perfect illustration of everything that is wrong with our complaining psychology as well as what we can gain by learning to complain effectively.

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You can hear Frankie describe the incident which is on the March 18, 2011 episode. In short, here's what happened: Frankie was taking a red-eye flight on the West Coast that was first delayed and then cancelled. Passengers were given little information and hours later, herded back into the terminal to spend the night without food or water. Only after passengers complained did the airline arrange for provisions; bottled water and food that was apparently inedible.

Waiting out the night, the passengers were angry and frustrated so the airline distributed vouchers for $75 to make up for their 'inconvenience'. Understandably, Frankie, felt that $75 was hardly sufficient compensation for the airline's poor communication and planning, not to mention their terrible customer service in the situation. So she dashed off a letter to the company while she was sitting with the other passengers. She got a prompt response and a voucher for $300 (in addition to the $75 voucher the airline gave all passengers). Frankie reports she was aware of no other passengers who took similar action.

Complaining and Learned Helplessness

An unfortunate hallmark of our current complaining psychology is our tendency to convince ourselves that complaining is pointless when in fact, it is not. All the passengers were furious at the airline and extremely uncomfortable because of the situation, and all of them could and should have gotten far more than $75 for their troubles. Yet, the vast majority of them did not complain to the company directly. Sure, they probably voiced their irritation to representatives on the scene but customer service representatives are extremely limited in their authority, a fact of which most of us are or should be aware.

What prevented passengers from writing company executives is the belief that doing so will not yield a result and therefore that any such efforts would be wasted. However, I am willing to bet those passengers spent a substantial amount of effort relaying their tale of the cancelled flight to scores of their friends and family members once they got home. If they would have spent a fraction of that time to write a complaint to the company, they too could have received hundreds of dollars in compensation.

Leaving Cash on the Table

The reality is our ineffective complaining habits are costing all of us cold hard cash in refunds we never collect, discounts we don't insist upon, and compensation we don't demand. The only thing stopping us from pursuing these complaints is our defeatist complaining psychology.

However, the wonderful thing about mindsets is-we can change them! We can recognize that our current beliefs about the utility of complaining are actually faulty and that complaining effectively does and can get us results.

The most important take-away from The Squeaky Wheel is that we need to reexamine our automatic assumptions when we find ourselves in a complaining situation and realize that although we might feel helpless-we are not. Learning to complain effectively is not just about recouping cash, but about recouping our self-esteem, our sense of agency and self-efficacy.

When next you have a complaint-challenge the inner voice that tells you there's no point in complaining-and speak up. You'll be surprised at how effective you can be if you simply voice a civil complain to the right people--those with the authority to resolve it. If you feel you lack the skills and techniques to do so, check out other posts on this blog of The Squeaky Wheel book.

Frankie Boyer is not the only effective complainer I recently met. Read my personal blog for the story of a young man whose complaint got a huge company to face the music-his music.

Copyright 2011 Guy Winch

Follow me on Twitter @GuyWinch

Guy Winch, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and author of The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships and Enhance Self-Esteem. more...

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