Authors@Google: Guy Winch

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 21.07.2011

>>Male Presenter: Hi everyone. My name is Toma Shaun. I'm a User-Experience Researcher
and I'm very happy to introduce you to Guy Winch, a psychologist, who's gonna talk about
complaint psychology. If you really want his book, "The Squeaky Wheel," and you didn't
get it, please let the Authors at Google team know and we'll purchase books for you. Go
>>Guy Winch: All right. Thank you. Am I on? Yes. Excellent. Alright.
So, welcome everyone and thanks for having me, Toma. Today, I'm going to tell you how
our complaining psychology affects our lives and our relationships.
Now, I know the topic of complaints is not one that elicits positive connotations for
most people, but I really hope to change that. Case in point, I want to tell you about the
day my book came out. Like most writers, I dreamed for years about the day I will be
able to see a book I wrote on the shelves of a bookstore.
So the day my book was published, I ran down to my local bookstore with my favorite pen
in hand, because my agent said, "Oh, they're going to ask you to sign books." So, I had
my pen. I ran up to the customer service desk where the customer service manager was standing
and said, "I’m Guy Winch and my book just came out."
And she said, "Winch. Oh. Let me see." And she looked it up and she goes, "Oh. Here it
is. The Squeaky Wheel. Complaining? Ooh, I hate people who complain. Ugh." And she turned
I realized I won't be needing my pen. But I took comfort in the fact that if she hates
people who complain that much, she must really love her job as a customer service manager.
But I also understood how she felt. We complain more today than ever before in history. We
complain about everything from the weightiest global issues to the smallest details of our
daily lives.
We complain about the actions of our favorite television characters with the same immediacy
and passion as we do about the actions of our spouse or our friends. And yet, even our
best complainers, our kvetching prodigies, even the cream of our moaning crop rarely
get the results they want.
Today, we are all squeaky wheels, but we don't get the grease. We face daily frustrations
and irritations and we don't have a clue about how to address them effectively. Now, I can
see your faces and know what some of you are thinking but let me ask you this.
The last time your partner or your roommate or your colleague did something that really
annoyed you, did you say something to them about it? If you did, did you get the result
you wanted? The last time a sales person was rude to you in a store, did you speak to the
The last time the dish you ordered in a restaurant was not cooked properly, did you send it back?
Complaints are a much bigger factor in our life than we realize and not just because
we have so many of them, but mostly because of what happens to us psychologically when
we do.
The thing is the urge to complain triggers a powerful and negative psychological mindset
that impacts our feelings and our behaviors and dramatically affects our lives and our
relationships for the worse.
And we don't even realize that is happening. Now, when a psychologist tells you that the
mere urge to complain triggers powerful, hidden, destructive forces inside your mind, I understand
that can sound like pure theory.
So, the first topic I'll cover today is what the research tells us about complaining psychology.
I'll explain what this mindset does to us and what our complaining psychology is costing
us in various aspects of our lives.
Then, I'll tell you what you can do about it. I'll give you the recipe for preparing
a Complaint Sandwich and I'll tell you how to eat one as well. Google recently opened
a new call center. So, we'll talk about the challenges those folks might be facing and
we'll end with an inspiring story about extra-large brassieres and their occupants.
Hopefully by the end of today, I'll have changed your minds about complaints so you can see
them for the opportunities they truly are. But let's begin with the research. And here
we see the first gap between what we perceive we do and what we actually do.
Most people think they would speak up if they were on the losing end of a bad deal. If something
you purchased arrived in the wrong size, if it was broken, if it didn't do what it was
supposed to do, most of us think we would complain. And yet, study after study demonstrates
that when we are dissatisfied with certain purchases, 95% of us fail to complain to the
company in question, ninety-five percent. Only 5% of us speak up to the company. And
when we ask people why they haven't spoken up in these situations, this is what they
say. Here's how we justify why we don't complain. We believe complaining to the company will
require too much time and effort.
We believe the process of complaining will be too annoying and aggravating. We believe
that even if we did complain, we won't get a satisfying result. Now, these might seem
like compelling arguments except for one thing.
Those very same people will then relay the tale of consumer woe to an average of 16 friends
and acquaintances and getting re-aggravated every time they do it, expending incredible
time and effort in doing it and resolving nothing. So, do you see the paradox? We voice
our complaints to everyone except the people who can actually resolve them.
This same contradiction operates in every sphere of our lives. When we feel hurt or
annoyed or disappointed by something our partners or our friends or our family members did or
said, we usually don't voice complaints to them for all the same reasons.
We believe it will require hours of talking and discussion. We believe doing so will be
too aggravating because it will lead to an argument. And we believe that even if we tried
complaining to these people, it won't resolve the matter to our satisfaction. In other words,
we use the very same reasons to justify why we don't complain in our personal lives as
we do in our lives as consumers.
And here's the other similarity. Instead of complaining directly to our family members
or to our friends or our colleagues when we're upset with them, we complain about them to
our other family members, our other friends, and our other colleagues. I mean, let's be
Locker room acquaintances are more likely to hear what your spouse did to annoy you
than your actual spouse. Now sadly, all this effort in complaining to everyone doesn't
work. And what it does do is convince us that well, complaining doesn't work so why try?
And then the next time we're upset with something, we're even less likely to voice it to the
people who can fix it for us. This is a textbook example of a self-defeating prophecy and we
all do it. But perhaps the best illustration of how broken our complaining psychology truly
is, is the global phenomenon known as Complaints Choirs.
This is the Chicago Choir. But all over the world people are gathering in town squares
and concert halls to sing their complaints to originally composed music, at times accompanied
by symphony orchestras. I wish I was kidding. I'm not. You can look them up on YouTube.
There are many of them with hundreds of thousands of page views. Now, here is, for example,
is St. Petersburg Complaints Choir in Russia. Here is the Tokyo Complaints Choir. Here is
the Cairo Complaints Choir, albeit before the uprising. I'm not sure they're singing
There are many, many others. Now, since this phenomenon was a Finnish invention, here's
the Helsinki Complaints Choir. The Helsinki Complaints Choir has two main complaints.
Their first complaint is that their trams, their public transportation systems smell
like urine.
And their second complaint is they don't get laid enough. Well, maybe they shouldn't take
the trams to their dates. Do you know what I'm saying?
Here's why this phenomenon is so tragic. Think of how many hours go into preparing the concepts
and the lyrics and the composing and the matching outfits. If the Helsinki Choir stood outside
their City Hall and sang to their politicians, "If you don't clean up our trams, we won't
vote for you," someone would clean their trams.
But they don't do that. None of the choirs do. They have this amazing platform and none
of the choirs use it to actually try and fix the things they're singing about. None of
them. So, they sing in Times Square and their concert halls and it's all very funny, but
nothing changes.
By the way, I recently mentioned the Helsinki Choir in a keynote address I gave a few weeks
ago because I thought if I mention one of the American choirs, there's the Chicago and
Philadelphia and Memphis and others I didn't wanna offend anyone in the audience.
So, I did Helsinki and the minute I finished my talk, a woman marches up to me and she
goes, "I'm from Helsinki."
So that's awkward. And then she says to me, "Helsinki is a great city. It's where they
made Angry Birds."
And I'm thinking, Angry Birds? That's the best she had? I mean, Helsinki is lovely.
It's got far more going for it than Angry Birds. But the thing about Angry Birds is
Angry Birds don't call each other up and go, "Can you believe what those pigs did? They
stole my eggs. I'm just fuming about it." They don't. Angry Birds take action.
They launch themselves at those pigs. Angry Birds in Helsinki get stuff done. Angry people?
Not so much. It's true. You don't see choir members launching themselves into the air.
You don't see the choir members smashing into the trams.
By the way, I should point out no actual choir members were hurt during the preparation of
these slides.
[laughter] The thing is the mindset we bring to complaining
situations is broken. We have a fundamental apprehension about complaining. We have a
deep-seated belief that we will not be heard.
We feel helpless and powerless about being able to get results and so we don't even try
to complain effectively. But because we have so many complaints, how we deal or rather,
not deal with them could have a real impact on our lives and the evidence for that is
all around us.
In terms of results, most of us have a shelf in our closet, or our garage, where we put
all the purchases that arrived in the wrong size or that were missing a crucial piece
that we were going to return, but we never quite got around to making the call. I call
it "the shelf of complaining shame," frankly.
But some people have clothing and programs and electronics and hundreds and thousands
of dollars’ worth of products on that shelf. Most people have pet peeves, for example,
about their partners; things their loved ones do that drive them absolutely crazy.
Sexual behaviors that can be distracting or relationship habits that can be really hurtful
or personal habits that can be slightly revolting. Now, we don't know how to complain about this
stuff and the more important stuff. And the things is that those kinds of things can really
erode our feelings over time and hasten and bring about the end of our relationships.
In our communities, most of our neighbors are upset about the same things we are. They
also think there should be a traffic light on that corner. They also find it annoying
to arrive for a doctor's appointment on time and then spend over an hour in the waiting
room anyway.
They also get annoyed when the local grocery store doesn't take expired products off their
shelves. But no one speaks up about those things. And have you ever spoken up about
such things? We don't feel we can do anything about these situations, about these small
and not so small irritations when they happen.
But walking around feeling defeated and upset and powerless on a regular basis affects our
mood. And it affects our self-esteem. And it can even affect our mental health. But
if we knew how to complain effectively, if we had the tools, if we mastered the techniques
that could get us results, if we had confidence in our complaining ability, we could turn
all those problems around.
And doing so would improve our quality of lives in so many different ways. For example,
currently only 1% of our complaints reach company executives, reach the actual decision-makers
who can change things. So, that's why things don't change.
And if we complained more effectively and they knew about it, they would improve products.
They would improve services. They would improve their procedures. All things we would gain
from. Our relationships would become stronger and more satisfying and longer lasting.
We know from research that couples that are able to discuss a complaint productively have
much higher marital satisfaction and much longer marital longevity than couples who
do not. It's a really huge thing in relationships. Our communities would function more smoothly
and do better for us.
For example, I'm sure some of you know this, but when women spoke out about having to wait
twice as long for bathrooms than men in sporting arenas and concert halls, places like New
York City passed the Potty Parity Bill. Have you heard of it? Well, great. Some of you
have, most of them men for some reason.
But now, the new Mets Stadium and Yankee Stadium and new construction has twice as many stalls
for women than it does for men. Those things really affect our lives when we do them. Getting
results when we have complaints would make us feel empowered, assertive, and effective.
And all the books and the magazines that say "feel empowered," well, they're getting something
very wrong because personal empowerment is not about a feeling. It's about having actual
influence in your relationships, in your life. If you don't, but you just "feel" empowered,
you won't "feel" empowered for long, I assure you.
But voicing meaningful dissatisfactions when you have them, getting the people around you
to change what they're doing, or your community to change what you're doing, that's the definition
of personal empowerment. In other words, we have to stop managing our complaints in ways
that are emotionally harmful to us and use them as psychological tools that could make
us stronger.
It's like Popeye and spinach, really. I'm sure you all know Popeye the Sailor. He was
even a Google Doodle in December of 2009. Are you familiar with it? OK. So for those
who aren't up on their Depression cartoons, Popeye is a pipe-smoking sailor who gets strong
by eating spinach, mostly from a can.
So, that's disgusting. But really, the spinach. So, well complaints are like spinach. They
could make us all stronger if we use them correctly, but we don't. It's as if Popeye,
instead of eating the spinach, just stuffed it into his pipe, smoked it, and got emphysema
and then thought, "Oh, complaints are bad."
No. How we use them is bad. So let's discuss how to use complaints correctly: how to eat
the spinach rather than smoke it; how to complain effectively; how to get results and improve
our quality of life. Now, to be able to complain effectively, we have to master a fundamental
We have to get our complaint through the other person's defense mechanisms. Pause. Think
back to the last time you got home at night and your significant other turned to you and
said, "We have to talk." I'm assuming there went your mood for the evening because you
immediately felt defensive like you were going to be attacked.
That's how we feel about complaints like we're going to be attacked. And so, what it does
is it triggers the fight or flight responses when we even sniff a complaint coming our
way. We either want to raise the drawbridge, flood the moat, and release the crocodiles.
Or, we want to escape the situation as rapidly as possible. For our complaint to be effective,
we have to voice it in a way that's the least likely to trigger the other person's defenses,
or at least trigger them on their lowest possible setting. The problem is that our urge to complain
is at its all-time strongest when we are at our most annoyed.
But the angrier we sound, the more defensive the other person gets and the less able they
will be to take in our complaint. And there is our complaining predicament. Our defensiveness
and their anger means we'll get an ineffective result and someone ends up sleeping on the
Now, to illustrate these dynamics and the solutions to them, I'm gonna give you three
common examples of complaints I hear all the time, both in my office from patients and
from friends. I chose common ones that you should be able to relate to. I'm gonna read
you three scenarios and I want you to imagine yourself in these scenarios.
Here's scenario number one. You're waiting for your significant other at the movie theater.
You've been dying to see the new movie everyone is talking about, but you've already missed
the first ten minutes of the film because your honey, as usual, is late.
Now, let's randomly assign genders to these scenarios just for illustration purposes.
And let's just randomly say the significant other in this scenario is a woman. Just randomly.
Scenario two. Your significant other has been working around the clock and you finally have
a free night together to enjoy a romantic dinner.
But you haven't been able to complete one train of thought because every few seconds
your honey glances over at their Android or smartphone to check or respond to emails.
Now let's randomly say the significant other in this scenario is a man. Again, randomly.
And lastly, scenario three, you went through major trouble for your significant other's
birthday and you threw them a surprise party with all their friends. You wake up on your
birthday all excited to find a gift certificate on the kitchen counter with a Post-it saying,
"Happy Birthday Honey."
Now, this one I typically hear from both genders. Let's take a quick vote. Who says this significant
other is a woman in this one? Was an easy vote. And a man? OK. So.
Apparently men are really bad gift-givers. OK, so now we have our scenarios. Chronic
lateness, smartphone attached like a Siamese twin, and a birthday reciprocity failure.
Now, I'm gonna give you some quotes how actual people I know complain, this is their actual
complaint. These are quotes, what they said in these situations. Here's the lateness situation.
"About flipping time. The movie started ten minutes ago. I am sick and tired of you being
late all the time. I'm tired of it."
And as you know, I practice in New York. So yes, I did paraphrase one of those words.
Scenario two. The smartphone. "I swear if you don't put that bleeping phone away right
now I will break it into a thousand pieces and shove them down your throat." Yes. She's
a delicate flower, that one.
And scenario three, the gift. "You're giving me a gift certificate for my birthday? Are
you kidding me? You gave your five-year old nephew a gift certificate for his birthday
and you think he's a spoiled brat." So, you might have every right to feel furious or
frustrated or hurt in these situations.
The question is are those complaints effective? No. Does raising our voice or losing our temper
motivate the other person to take responsibility? No. Do curses and threats compel people to
think through their behavior, see the error of their ways, and vow to change?
No. If we want the other person to hear us, to respond, to change, we have to forego the
brief, albeit sweet satisfaction of telling them off, of scoring points, of winning the
argument, and go for the far deeper and longer-lasting satisfaction of getting a meaningful result.
Sad as it is we cannot do both. The only way to get the other person to hear us, to digest
what we're saying is to make our complaint as delicious as possible by using the complaint
sandwich. The complaint sandwich is a simple technique that makes any complaint more effective.
It involves sandwiching the meat, the actual complaint between two positive statements,
the bread. And that does three things. It prevents the complaint recipient from becoming
too defensive. It focuses the attention of the other person on our actual complaint,
as opposed to on our anger or our attitude.
And it increases the likelihood the complaint recipient will respond positively. Now, the
structure of the complaint sandwich has three elements. It's simple, but the details are
not. So, let's look at them. The first slice of bread, the positive statement, I call the
"ear opener."
And its purpose is to do just that, to keep the ears of the complaint recipient open to
our actual complaint to follow. But coming up with a positive statement in some of these
situations is trickier than it seems. When I do this in my office with some patients--let's
say there's a husband who's annoyed with his wife about something with the kids, and I
say, "Give it a try." And he goes, "That's no problem. Um, nice blouse."
No. No. Unless his complaint is about her clothing, no. So, and let's look at what the
ear openers would be for our three situations. Here is the lateness situation. "Honey, I
know you make an effort to be on time." Now, some of you might think, "She's always late.
How is that something he can say?"
Well, people who are always late are actually trying to be on time. They're constantly rushed
and trying. They're trying to be on time. They're just horrible at it. So, we can say
you made an effort. Terrible, but you made an effort. So, here's the second scenario--the
"Babe, I know how hard it is to have a job where they expect you to respond to emails
after hour," because most people that have that job would rather not so we can easily
say that. And in the gift scenario, "I know I'm not easy to shop for, especially on birthdays
and holidays." And really, most adults aren't easy to shop for because if we want something,
we get it for ourselves.
So, it's not, we can always say that. I think that's an easy one. Now, the meat of the complaint
sandwich is our actual complaint. And here, the idea, the meat should be lean. We don't
want to marinate our meat in sarcasm or anger. That doesn't do any good.
And, we wanna stick to only one specific incident. Now, yes. It's terribly tempting to point
out all the other times the person was late. All the dinners that were ruined because of
the smartphone. Every birthday and holiday in which the gifts were inappropriate, starting
with the Christmas debacle of 2003.
But it's not useful. All that does is overwhelm the other person and then they get defensive
and they stop listening because they're busy planning their rebuttal. That's what they’re
doing. And they're busy thinking of a counterattack and they're busy wondering why they're with
us in the first place.
And do we realize our face looks funny when we get that angry. So it's not useful.
So let's look at what the meats would be for our complaint situations. Here's the lateness
situation. "Waiting for you made me really tense and irritable because I don't know how
late you'll be. I can't just switch these feelings off when you arrive so then I can't
enjoy what we're doing."
And here you'll notice it's all "I" statements. It's about explaining to the other person,
"Here's what goes wrong for me." Not, "You're late," or "You're inconsiderate." Here's what
happens. The second scenario is the phones. "Unfortunately, it's impossible for me to
relax, have a conversation and enjoy your company when you're checking your phone every
few minutes. It's just too disruptive."
Again, these are "I" statements. And in the third, "A gift card doesn't require much thought
or effort, so regardless of what's in it or where it's from, it just feels impersonal
and disappointing." So it's a complaint, but it's an explanation as well. The last slice
of bread is a positive statement I call the "digestive."
And that is that spoon full of sugar that helps the medicine go down. It also provides
incentive for the other person to respond positively because it should make it appear
to them what they can do to rectify the situation.
When we get a complaint and we know, "Oh, we can do this and things will be better,”
it's so much easier to just do this than when somebody's just really upset and we're not
sure what we can do about it. So, and when people ask me for complaining advice, I say,
"Well, what's the scenario?"
And they tell me. And I say, "Well, what is it you want to achieve?" And they always look
at me and they go, "Uhhh." They're not sure. And the idea is, think it through because
once you know what you actually want to achieve, it'll really help to direct you in terms of
how you complain, to whom you complain.
It's very useful. Let's look at the digesters for our scenarios. Here's the lateness one.
"If you could promise to be on time when you know something is important to me, I'll promise
to really appreciate it because I'll know it took a huge effort." Now, it's hard to
get the late person to be on time.
But that works so much better than the threats and the anger. That motivates them to at least
to trying. The second scenario with the phones. "If we agreed to turn off our phones when
we're having dinner or talking about something important it would allow me to enjoy our time
together so much more."
And some people say to me, "Well I can't just be off for an hour. I work for this investment
bank or whatever." And I say, "Fine. Take five minutes in the middle of the dinner.
Turn the phone on. Check. Respond and turn it off again, but spend 55 minutes with the
other person."
And the last scenario is, there we go. "I know you worry about getting me the wrong
thing but I promise if it's obvious you put thought into a gift, I'll always be pleased."
Which is a nice way to say it.
Now, when I work with couples and they start using the complaint sandwich with one another,
all of their arguments get easier because the minute they see somebody racking their
brain and starting with this ear opener thing, the other person starts smiling and says,
"Oh, you're gonna serve me a complaint sandwich."
And there's much less tension and then they're actually discussing things. It's really useful.
It's like shorthand for "Let's not argue, but" And it's really great. Now, complaining
in a relationship is a two-way street. So I also want to tell you how to eat a complaint
sandwich, or really how to respond to a complaint whether it's served to you as a sandwich or
When it comes to being on the receiving end of a complaint, one of the most common mistakes
people make and by people I mean men is to interrupt the other person with an explanation
or a solution or an apology before they've finished speaking. Familiar, is it?
It should be. Now, all that does is frustrate the other person more because from their perspective,
until they've finished telling you why they're upset, any solution or any apology you make,
doesn't seem authentic 'cause you don't yet know what you're apologizing for.
So, principle number one. Do not interrupt the initial complaint, however long it takes.
If I can do that with my mother, you can do that with other people because she goes on
The other thing is verify you understand exactly why the other person is upset. One of the
most common things that happen is that one person is complaining about X and the other
person is complaining about Y.
And so, they're actually not talking about exactly the same thing. And then they both
feel unheard and they start to repeat themselves. I'm sure you've had these arguments. You're
saying the same thing. They're saying the same thing. You can script their next response.
You're going around and around. Nothing really is happening, but you keep at it for some
reason. That happens because you're not exactly talking about the same thing. For example,
in the birthday gift scenario, if the person just said, "I'm really annoyed about the gift."
Then you might think, "Oh, because I left it on the counter and didn't give it to her
in person." Or, "because there wasn't a card." Or because "maybe that wasn't the right store."
Or, "maybe I exceeded the budget we had agreed on." You can come up with five different scenarios
of why they might be upset.
So one thing I suggest is when the other person's upset, verify you understand exactly what
it's about. You can say, "I just want to understand to make sure I understand exactly why you're
upset. Is it this?" And by the way, that sentence alone, relationship gold.
Trust me. It really reassures the other person you're trying to understand. So, do that.
And the last thing is acknowledge the other person's feelings. You might not feel it's
your fault. You might feel that they're in the wrong. But it doesn't cost you anything
to just acknowledge how they feel.
You're not taking responsibility by doing that. You're not ceding any ground. You can
certainly say, "Honey, I can imagine how furious you were that I was 30 minutes late to a movie
you wanted to see so badly." And then say, "But your email said 8 o'clock, not 7:30."
So understanding their feelings and conveying that doesn't cost you anything. Being on the
receiving end of complaints is not easy for anyone. But it is perhaps hardest of all for
call center representatives, the people who answer the phone when we call a customer service,
or a technical support, or a sales hotline because they get yelled at for a living.
Now, Google began offering free phone support for its AdWords customers in North America,
I think in April. And I haven't spoken to any of those people, but their jobs are anything
like those in other call centers, then they're dealing with a huge amount of customer hostility.
How much? Studies show that call center representatives can deal with an average of ten hostile calls
a day. And I want to be clear what I mean when I say hostile. We're talking curses,
yelling, put-downs, insults, ridicule, personal threats and even death threats.
Truly. Now think about it a moment. I mean really ask yourselves have you ever called
a customer hotline and raised your voice? Most of us have. And you might be nice people.
Think about the not-nice people who do it. Now, we wouldn't speak that way to anyone
else in our lives, but when it comes to call center employees, it's open season.
And part of the reason is because of the systems that some companies, not all, but some companies
put in place, really annoying systems. It starts with the automated menus. They ask
for your account number, your social security number, your date of birth.
They want to know your mother's maiden name, the name of your first pet, the serial number
of the washing machine that's at the bottom of the machine, but it's bolted to your basement
floor. Then you finally get through to a recording who tells you, without a shred of irony, that
your time is really valuable to the company who's very busy wasting it.
And then you finally get to a live person and they have a foreign accent. Isn't that
annoying? OK. So, and that person then just proceeds to ask you all the same questions
all over again, while mispronouncing your name. Now, my name is simple.
Guy and Winch. It's one syllable apiece. And yet, here's some of the things that I get.
"How can I help you Mr. Wank?"
"Yes, Mr. Witch." And my favorite "Let me bring up your account Mr. Wench. Can I call
you Gay?"
So, we were annoyed before we even called. Let alone after that obstacle course, the
things is many companies have things in place which they call "planned inconvenience."
And their idea is to make it that difficult for customers to get through, so customers
will drop out. Here's the genius. They then have to hire fewer call center representatives
and great, they're saving money. Except that when people actually do get through, they
have so much more anger and hostility which they unleash on those call center representatives
that the call center representatives can't take it.
And they end up leaving after a few months or a year. Call center work is one of the
most stressful jobs that there are and it has one of the highest drop-out rates of any
industry. People just can't take it. It affects their mental health. It affects their physical
And so, they leave. And what happens then is those companies might have saved money
on the reps, but now they have to invest money in hiring new people, in training new people,
and then guess what? Those new people are less experienced so they don't know what they're
So they get even angrier, so they leave even sooner. And on and on the vicious cycle goes.
Nobody wins. Now, while our anger might be justified, the people we're calling are entry
level employees with limited authority. And civility and respect will illicit far more
help and effort on their part than yelling and cursing.
I sometimes, when I'm really annoyed, will say, "I'm glad to speak with you. I'm sorry
if I sound annoyed, I'm just really frustrated and I hope you can help me, but it's really
not at you so please don't take it personally." And that disclaimer alone? They go, "Oh, great."
And they're much happier about it. The things is, what do companies do to help call center
employees manage the stress? They tell them in their brief week or so of training, "Ooh,
we're gonna give you techniques to manage stress. Here's technique number one. You can
ask the customer to stop yelling."
Glad we went for that one. "And here's another technique," they say. "Write down the number
of curses because most customers only have seven juicy curses in them." I mean, that's
like saying to a boxer, "Let your opponent keep hitting you in the face because eventually
they'll get exhausted."
In other words, most companies do very, very little to help their call center employees.
The problem is the companies don't understand complaining psychology. If they taught complaining
psychology to call center reps, it would help them because A, they would understand where
the customers are coming from and it would help them know how exactly to diffuse the
But companies, even the executives, don't understand. They don't understand that complaints
are like gold to them. Companies spend tens of thousands of dollars on focus groups. And
complaints are free focus groups.
They're telling you about problems with your products, or your procedures, or your services,
which you can just fix and avoid other problems and avoid customers complaining or leaving
or spreading bad word about you. But they don't do it. The tragedy of our complaining
psychology is that most people know so little about it, everyone loses.
Our relationships suffer because we don't know how to voice our satisfactions without
starting an argument. Our self-esteem suffers because we feel powerless to get results.
Call center employees suffer. Customers lose and companies lose.
The good news is we can start turning that around right now and make a difference in
our own lives and our own communities, because there are only three things required to have
an impact for you, for anyone. We need complaining savvy, which now you have a little bit of,
persistence and a belief that your complaint is right.
Sometimes, only a few people can make a difference in a community and sometimes it only takes
one person. And just to illustrate that point of how much of a difference one person can
make, I'm going to tell you about Beckie Williams and her extra-large brassiere.
Ms. Williams' story began in the fall of 2007, when as a 25-year old copywriter for children's
books in England, she was shopping for brassieres in Marks and Spencer, which I don't know if
you know, it's one of the largest retailers in all of England. And she noticed something
Bras that were sized double D and larger, had a two pound surcharge. That's three dollars
and change. And being in the larger category herself, she was a little annoyed by the pricing
discrepancy so she got home and dashed off a letter to Marks and Spencer saying, "Why
am I paying more for my bras?"
And they wrote back saying, "Well, it's to defray the costs of extra material the extra-large
bras require." And she thought, "Well, my blouses have extra material and I don't pay
more for those." So that didn't make sense to her. So she wrote back to Marks and Spencer
to point out all the flaws in their logic and didn't hear from them.
Marks and Spencer didn't respond. So, she was discussing this issue with some of her
busty friends as she calls them when she realized she doesn't like complaining without doing
something. So she decided she's going to do something. So she started a Facebook group
to petition Marks and Spencer about their pricing discrepancy.
And she called the group "Busts for Justice." Busts for Justice immediately swelled with
over 100 new members. So much so that a journalist in London saw the group and decided to write
a small story about it in a London newspaper in which Beckie Williams appeared outside
Marks and Spencer’s with one of her brassieres.
In the week following that national exposure, the Busts for Justice Facebook group ballooned
to huge proportions with over eight thousand new participants. And we're counting people,
by the way, as participants, who all started writing the company and Marks and Spencer
thought we'll issue a statement.
And what their statement said was, "Very few companies make those kinds of extra-large
brassieres. Those ladies should be grateful. We're not willing to jiggle our price one
bit." Which was slightly short-sighted on their part. So the discussion boards, when
that happened on Busts for Justice, teemed with activity and Marks and Spencer realized
So they called Beckie Williams up for a meeting in which they said to her, "We're gonna discuss
pricing options with our manufacturers in China." Great. But then, the recession of
2008 hit. And in Great Britain as well. And Marks and Spencer said, "Well, in this economic
climate there's nothing we can do."
And they stopped returning her calls. Now, you might think, "Well, what more can she
do, this 25-year old?" Right? But Beckie Williams had complaining savvy and she had persistence
and she really believed she was right. So here's what she did. In May of 2009, she went
out and bought one share of Marks and Spencer stock for roughly five dollars.
And then she called the journalist that put the story in the London paper and told her
that she and some of her busty friends will be attending the annual stockholders meeting
of Marks and Spencer in July where they will personally confront in person the Chair of
the company about their discriminatory pricing policies.
And the journalist knew a good story when she heard it and by the next morning, Beckie
Williams was on her way to London to tape a segment in a very popular breakfast television
show in which she described the upcoming confrontation. Forty-eight hours later, Marks and Spencer
They not only agreed to price all bras equally, they actually issued an apology to Beckie
Williams and her Facebook group. Now, being a British company, they absolutely had to
insert the obligatory pun. So, their apology was "We Boobed!"
But finally taking advantage of the amazing marketing opportunity that had been staring
them in the face all along, they announced a one-week bra sale to usher in this new era
of bra size equality.
Beckie Williams started out by writing a letter about a biased pricing policy and ending up
creating change on a national level that affected tens of thousands of women. And what's remarkable
is she did all of it without lawyers, without financing, without candlelit marches.
She only used three things we all have: complaining savvy, assistance, and a belief she was right.
Complaints can be powerful things. If we use them correctly, they can truly be our spinach.
They can get us results when we have been wronged. They can get our relationships back
on track when they've derailed.
They can improve our communities and they can help us feel stronger and better about
ourselves. Complaints can help companies serve their customers better by improving their
products and their services and becoming more profitable by doing that. Life presents us
with challenges and dissatisfactions every single day.
The next time you find yourself venting to someone who can't fix the problem instead
of to someone who can, remember that the door to your own psychological revolution could
start with that very complaint. If instead of just squeaking, you squeak effectively.
Thank you very much.
So I think we're doing a Q&A. I'll take the As.
[laughter] Any Qs?
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: I have a question. Thank you very much for your talk. First of
all, did you take an actor class somewhere, sometime?
>>Guy Winch: I'm sorry?
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: Did you take an actor class sometime?
>>Guy Winch: A what class? A lecture class?
>>Guy Winch: Actor class. No. I did not. Why? I'm sorry. No.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: That's OK. The second question is--
I think the--. You haven't so like really described the fundamental problem behind the
lack of complaining is that people afraid to confront other people. And those 5% who
do complain, they don't afraid to confront other people in general. So how can people
like raise their ability to confront others?
>>Guy Winch: OK. That's a very good question, but there are two aspects there. First of
all, many of our complaints are not gonna be in-person confrontations. We can write
letters. That's not very confrontative.
But the whole idea, for example, of the complaint sandwich is that it doesn't feel like a confrontation
when you do it that way. It doesn't feel like it to you, as a complainer, and it doesn't
feel like it to the other person. It feels much more like a pleasant transaction.
The whole idea of the confrontation is that we wait and then we bring so much anger to
the complaining situation because of our psychology that it turns into a confrontation. But my
point is exactly that's the wrong approach. We should just voice things. Do it pleasantly.
Start positively. And it feels much less like a confrontation and much easier for most of
us to do because most of us don't enjoy confrontations. That's a great question. Thank you.
>>Guy Winch: Hi.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #2: Do you have any recommendations on how to change the way people
complain to you that aren't someone like your partner that you can work constructively with?
>>Guy Winch: Yes.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #2: So like strangers on the street in New York, for example, that
seem to want to put their anger and frustration onto me? For example.
>>Guy Winch: I don't know what you're doing to the people when you're walking down the
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #2: Do you want a better example?
>>Guy Winch: Well, the strangers in the street in New York just specifically, it might be
better to just keep walking. But--
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #2: So, I’ll give you an example. So, I was hiking a few weekends
ago and stopped at a restaurant after my hike with my friend to have a beer and whatever,
or a snack, and we were stretching on the porch--
>>Guy Winch: Mm-hmm.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #2: by our table while we were waiting for our food. And then
sat down when our food arrived and had a pleasant meal. And when we left, the guy sitting next
to us said under his breath, but loud enough so we could hear it, "Thank God they're leaving."
And, "Get a gym next time." I just kept walking, but this seems to happen to me all the time
for some reason. I don't know why.
And I can't really exactly go back to him and say, "Hey, can you give that to me in
a complaint sandwich next time?"
>>Guy Winch: Well, no. But look. First of all, I'm not sure where else you're stretching.
But other than that, but here's what you can say. I mean, I would turn to the person and
say, "You know if that really bothered you all you had to do was say something." In other
words, I'm really--.
Since I wrote my book, I've become horribly annoying because I will actually, no, it's
true. I will actually educate people about when they complain to me I'll give them pointers.
"Oh, you know what? Your anger was OK, but here's what you should really try."
And they're like, "What?" And I'm like, "You see, you started by telling me that I'm a
douchebag, but--
if in fact you started with a 'why' and then gave me the douchebag, I would've listened
more." I mean, so it's very annoying, but I'll go it.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #2: OK. That's really helpful. Thank you.
>>Guy Winch: Any other stretchers?
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #3: Don't you agree that there's just a certain segment of the
population that just complains for no reason? They don't want results. It's just a way of
whining or attention grabbing and what are your thoughts on that?
>>Guy Winch: Absolutely. There are chronic complainers. I talk about them in my book.
I didn't really have time to address them here. But there are chronic complainers. They're
not a majority, but there are people who really dissatisfied with everything.
It has much more to do with how they perceive the world because they don't see themselves
as complaining. They just see their lives as very bleak and they're responding to it
accurately. But they don't want to hear solutions. They don't want to be cheered up. They just
want to be validated like, "Yes, things are so terrible for you."
That's what makes them happy. If you try and tell them things are not so terrible, they're
not gonna be happy. But if you go, "Oh, that's just terrible," you'll see the [sighs], they're
just so pleased.
And maybe you know those people. And the thing is yes, some people, and they're gonna complain.
It's gonna be very, very hard to change them but there aren't that many of them. But they
usually, there's one or two around everywhere. And once you know it you can just steer clear
by just going, "Oh yes, that's terrible." And keep walking and get into trying to, "No,
but it's really not that bad." 'Cause that just, they'll tell you why it is and it'll
just go on forever. But yes, there are people like that.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #4: Hey. This actually happened like last week. So, I was in a taxi
and I, that was like very early in the morning and I asked the taxi driver to take me to
a place. And he charged me like extensively strong.
So I asked him to take me to a certain place and then I changed the direction and I told
him to go to another place and then he just doubled the price.
>>Guy Winch: What do you mean? There was a price on the meter and he just doubled it?
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #4: No, it's not on the meter. He initially told me it was like
30 dollars or something and then later he said 65. So, and then I tried arguing with
him and then he started yelling at me. So that was a position where I just couldn't
help but then budge to him saying that, "OK, whatever be it, I'll just pay it and leave."
And ever since that night, I've complained to three other people after that about the
same situation. There was no other goal but to complain about it, so how would you deal
with such situation?
>>Guy Winch: Look. I'll tell you what I would do in that situation, but New York cabs is
just another book, isn't it? But I would just say to him, "Look, I can give you the extra
money you want and I'll be writing a letter to the TLC with all your information. Or,
I can give you the money we agreed upon in the first place plus a nice tip. It's your
choice. You tell me what you want."
I think that's the best you can do in those kinds of scenarios. Do you know what the TLC
is? It's the Taxi and Limousine Commission. There's usually a number posted in cabs and
livery cabs that you can. They have a number for complaints. I never called it. I don't
know how responsive they are. But yes, I would offer the option.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #4: Yeah, so I was basically considering that option but then
I just didn't go ahead and do it.
>>Guy Winch: But I think if you had, for example, you would've felt better about it.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #5: Hi. So, I'm one of these people that never complains at restaurants,
right? And I think and I've been thinking about it while you've been talking and sending
your food back is a huge hassle and it disrupts your meal.
You don't really want to do that. I don't wanna be perceived as saying, "Hey, how about
a round of free drinks?" Or, "Give me something." And I'm trying to think of what the second
slice of bread is in a sandwich if I were to say, "Excuse me, everything is really great,
but my steak is slightly underdone and I don't quite know what I want from you. I just want
you to know that I'm unhappy."
So I wonder what your recommendation is for that second slice of bread.
>>Guy Winch: You need to figure out what you want. I mean, and this is what I was saying
because when you don't, A you do get stuck and B, if you don't know, what's the manager
gonna do? I mean multiple choice? Do you want him to have to guess?
The thing is in restaurants, here's the thing. If something bothers you to the extent that
you might not go back to that restaurant, you're losing out and restaurant is losing
out. So why I believe in sending things back in certain restaurants, not at McDonalds.
I don't like the fries.
But in restaurants, why I believe that's important is because they will do something for you
because they want you to come back. And if that's gonna allow you to come back then I
think you should do it.
Now, usually when you return something they expedite the order. They don't make you wait
the other, unless you want another well done steak, it might take a while. But I think
it's important to give the restaurant an opportunity to rectify the situation. And then, your digestive
would be 'because I really like this restaurant and I come here a lot and I'd like to keep
coming here" for example. But you do have to figure out what you want. Unfortunately.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #6: So, you spoke a lot about how to deal with like companies
and complaining or specifically in like, interpersonal relationships and maybe this falls into the
interpersonal relationships category, but when, do have any special advice for the co-worker
This may be different than someone you're romantically involved with or a company or
>>Guy Winch: I don't want to put you on the spot, but is there a specific complaint you're
By the way, are your colleagues?
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #6: Well, I mean, so actually it's really convenient 'cause the
guy that I used to complain a lot about to my wife, instead of to him, has actually quit.
>>Guy Winch: Excellent.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #6: Yeah, it's perfect.
>>Guy Winch: Does he get YouTube? I don't know. All right.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #6: So, but at any rate, it was just essentially like a low performance,
low quality of work and just feeling like no matter how many times we would talk about
how things could be better or different, they weren't.
>>Guy Winch: How did that impact you?
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #6: Well, because it made more work for me or--.
>>Guy Winch: OK. I understand.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #6: Or stuff like that.
>>Guy Winch: So look. So I do actually think it's important. I mean at work when you're
complaining in parallel, when you're complaining to colleagues or co-workers, I think it's
important to voice it. And you can say like, "I really think you're making a big effort
here or I really enjoy sharing the office with you," or whatever the opener would be,
"I really feel that in some cases you're not doing enough and I'm carrying a little bit
more of the load. So, I'm wondering if we can discuss how to take our next project and
give you a bigger slice of it to even it out a little bit." Something like that.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #6: OK. So still just another sandwich.
>>Guy Winch: It's always a sandwich.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #6: All right. Cool.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #7: Hi. Thank you for your talk. It's been entertaining. I wanted
to ask if you have any advice about choosing your complaining battles. So if my husband
says I complain about too many things, it then falls on deaf ears, even if it's in a
complaint sandwich.
Is there, do you have some advice about what to complain about?
>>Guy Winch: Yes. That's a really, really important question so I'm really glad you
asked it. We really have to think this through in our relationships because you want, in
general, 80% of what you say to your husband to be either neutral or positive and 20% to
be either directives or complaints.
Directives are the "honey come to dinner." Or complaints. No, I mean that's part of the
thing. So you can't have it be too negative. Even if they're actually doing things which
warrant 50% complaining, you really have to choose. You want the overall tone of your
communications to be as positive as possible.
So, A, you have to choose and prioritize and B, you have to order them so that they're
not too many coming at him at once. You wanna sit down and him take one complaint seriously,
fix that, and then voice another serious complaint after that rather than just fire them off
when you get home and then he just turns off and he's not listening to them anymore.
So, yes it's really important to prioritize. The ones which are most emotionally meaningful
to you are the ones I would start with, but one. And make the general tone of your dialogue
with him sound more positive before you do that and then he'll be more opening to listen
about your complaint, especially if you use the sandwich.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #7: So, a follow-up to that is I've noticed in some communications
with my husband, and I'm sure other people are familiar with this, that when someone
complains about something the other person says, "Well, you do that." So there's sort
of complaining back.
>>Guy Winch: First of all, when you try the sandwich you'll find that happens much, much
less. Secondly, you can say, "That's a great point. Since I'm the one that raised the thing
I wanted to discuss, let's separate those two discussions. Let's have this one first
and I promise you I'll sit through the other one when we're done with this one.
But let's do one thing at a time." OK.
>>Guy Winch: You're welcome.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #8: Hi. Thank you for your talk. I just have a question regarding
other people eating the complaint sandwich. Unfortunately, there are often people in your
lives that don't like eating any sort of complaint sandwich, or any sort of feedback.
>>Guy Winch: Mm-hmm.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #8: And sometimes they're just difficult people and you have
to interact with them. How can you soften or make them more accepting of a complaint
sandwich when they are difficult people for example?
>>Guy Winch: Well, in my book I get into this a little bit because in certain scenarios
you have to really fluff up that bread more than in others. And so it could be that someone's
difficult and they're resistant.
That first slice of bread needs to be extra fluffy. And it could be that you need to explain
things in the meat section much, much more so they understand it. But essentially, yes.
Some people are just going to be very defensive, not many, but if you really work those elements
of the sandwich correctly, and in the examples I gave, the bread was very, it was half a
sentence, a sentence.
You can beef that up to three or four sentences of a preamble and then put the meat in then
add another three or four sentences in the digestive and that will make it much easier
for the other person to take in. It's not a guarantee. Some people just won't, but you're
best likelihood is to make the bread more extensive on either end.
>>Guy Winch: All right. Thank you very much everyone. I appreciate it.