Why People Love to Complain and Why We Need to Listen Anyway

Brittany Madera

Brittany Madera

People love to complain. And people love to complain to us.

I feel like nobody knows more about listening to complaints than I do. I worked in food service for a couples of the years and then “upgraded” to retail in my later college years. No one knows complaints better than someone who has worked in retail. People will complain about anything, and your job is to nod solemnly and say something sympathetic like, “I understand how that would be frustrating for you.”

I love working for IUP SVP much more than working in retail, but there are some similarities. I still have to listen to complaints. Except now, instead of hearing complaints about a return policy or a defective purchase, I now hear complaints about the university’s party image or that departments aren’t interconnected well enough.

It’s not like we try to avoid talking about the bad things. Yes, our job is to focus on the positives and figure out where people want IUP to focus in the future. However, some of that requires knowing our weaknesses and where we need to improve. And when the time comes to talk about those weaknesses, boy, are people ever willing to talk. A lot.

To get a little background on why people (myself included) love to complain, I found this About.com article on why complaining feels so good and how to know when you should stop complaining.

Ironic complaint door sign

Photo credit – penywise, SXC.hu

Here’s the gist:

Why do people love to complain?

  • It feels nice to vent and blow off steam once in a while.
  • Sometimes it’s your only chance to make your voice heard about something that’s bothering you.
  • If you complain, people can help find a solution to the problem.
  • Even if a solution isn’t found, now people at least know a problem exists.
  • “The squeaky wheel gets the oil” – Complaints can get problems noticed and solved efficiently.
  • It makes us feel validated whenever someone recognizes or apologizes for something.

It’s important for our team members to be able to listen to these complaints and note them, even if they won’t necessarily be used in a vision statement. And none of the people we are interviewing expect their complaint to be used in marketing or strategic planning. No one wants the front page of IUP’s website to say, “A top-rated university that allows students to enjoy a high-quality education for a low tuition cost. Oh, and by the way, we have some potholes in our parking lots that need attending to.”

People just want to be heard. They want their problems to be acknowledged. They know that we’ll listen to them because we’re asking. They also know that our anonymous notes are going to end up in the hands of important people, like Michael Driscoll. This is one safe way for their voices to be heard about things that they aren’t necessarily asked about all of the time.

So if you come to one of our facilitation meetings and we ask you, “What are some of IUP’s weaknesses, and how can we improve?”, don’t be scared to answer. We want to know.

–Brittany Madera


One thought on “Why People Love to Complain and Why We Need to Listen Anyway

  1. As long as complaints get to the right people, I don’t see any problem with it as a whole. But that doesn’t often happen. I used to be in retail too, and I always wanted to add “RESPONSIBLE ONLY FOR RINGING UP YOUR ITEMS, NOT PRICING THEM” next to my “Cashier” name tag. But nobody higher up than me would listen, and people feel frustrated by that.

    I think it’s funny that the SVP team is somewhere in the middle. We’re not causing the problems and we can’t really fix them, either, but we’re in a position to shed light on those problems. I bet that’s why we hear a lot of (well-deserved, in some cases) complaints!

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