Updated: Feb 13, 2020
It was very hard for me not to complain to the sales representative from Charter Spectrum yesterday, about his service, about the company’s irritating sales pressure tactics, and about the unjustness of having no choice related to internet services, since Charter Spectrum has the monopoly where I live. I purposely used the chat function on their website this time, as my previous encounters with customer service and sales have been frustrating over the years, so thought if I was typing, I’d have better control over my emotional responses to the conversation. But I still came close to losing it.
I won’t bore you with the entire almost one-hour live chat, but here’s the gist:
It started with me asking to add phone service to my current internet service and inquiring what that would cost. I included that I was not interested in cable TV, only adding the phone.
Only $9.99 and with faster internet speed!
Great! Let’s do it.
Oops. That price is only for new customers. Mine will be $29.99 a month, but still includes faster internet speeds.
I’ve been a customer for over 20 years, why can’t you reward loyal customers?
Sorry, we can’t. But wait, if you add cable TV, we can give you a great deal.
No thank you.
What are your favorite television programs?
I don’t want cable TV.
What type of programming do you like?
Thank you for your time, I’m not interested. End of chat session.
What makes this scenario totally mindless is that the company not only lost the sale of adding phone service to my account, but they again left me feeling very unhappy that I have to use any of their services. The second there is a viable alternative, I’m out!
Cable and satellite TV are dying industries. I’ve been slowly cutting the cord for months, eliminating services from my satellite tv subscription and replacing them with streaming services. I now have antennas at every television so I can view network and local channels without the need for a service provider. At some point, there will be no satellite on my rooftop. These companies have been charging us for decades for channels we don’t want and have not responded to technological advances making them obsolete. That’s a little mindless, too. Since corporations are considered "people" now, I assume they can behave mindfully or mindlessly. And this group definitely falls into the latter. But now, as they are going the way of the dinosaur, do they really think trying to coerce us into a service we know we don’t want is an effective way to wring a few more dollars out of us? At the expense of losing not only a sale, but permanently losing a customer?
Mindless, yes, but this leads into our main topic today. Why didn’t I complain?
According to psychologists, there is a “complaint threshold” that must be reached before someone decides to gripe. This threshold is currently being studied, but one facet may be the locus of control, or how much control a person feels he or she has in a situation. While I thought I was being mindful in my approach to the encounter, it may have been more about an automatic response in my brain. I have no control whatsoever in who provides my internet service and I know it. They know it. So what’s the point of complaining to the sales person? Even he probably has no control over having to try to sell me a cable tv subscription I don’t want or need.
On the other hand, if an airline misplaces my luggage, I probably will complain because I feel that by doing so, I might actually get my suitcase back or perhaps get it back quicker. In that situation, I feel that I can help control the situation and its outcome by lodging the complaint.
There are, however, various types of complaints and complainers from a psychological perspective. Unfortunately, much of complaining has negative repercussions. Studies indicate that one of those repercussions is that complaining can dampen people’s moods. Listening to complaints makes people feel worse, as well as making the complainer feel worse!
Simply put, complaining is expressing dissatisfaction. This used to happen almost exclusively in verbal form, but of course now, online complaints rule Twitter, other social media outlets, and consumer websites.
One type of complainer is the chronic complainer, someone who never seems to be satisfied. Chronic complainers have a tendency to ruminate on problems and to focus on setbacks or failures over progress. As we’ve discussed in several previous podcasts, we can change our neuropathy by thinking the same thoughts over and over, and here, too, some research suggests that making a habit of complaining can “re-wire” the brain so that complaint-thinking orientations become ingrained. Of course, it’s possible to re-wire the complaint-thinking re-wiring to make it more positive, but chronic complainers probably won’t think that would work, so why bother?
Another type of complaint is “venting.” Venting is a form of expressing emotional dissatisfaction and is typically grounded in anger. The problem with this type of complaining, however, is that it tends to cause the complainer to get angrier. That’s because as we rehash an event in our minds that made us angry as it happened, the brain re-releases the same stress hormones that it released during the original encounter. I suggest to my workshop participants that if they are angry and feel the need to vent, which is really a desire for validation, they vent only once and to someone they trust not to blindly agree with them. Someone validating that you “should” be angry is only fueling the fire! After they’ve vented once, they need to work on letting those thoughts and feelings go so that they can calm their minds enough to find solutions, versus getting angrier and angrier over the same situation.
An instrumental complaint would probably include the lost luggage example. These complaints are about solving problems. Complaining to your boss about a difficult client, if you are focused on the impact of the problem, the importance of change, and are willing to cooperate in creating a new strategy – that’s an instrumental complaint. Unfortunately, these types of complaints make up fewer than 25% of all complaints.
I had a rough day yesterday, complaint-wise. It may have started with the cable company, but it continued throughout the whole day. I ran into several bureaucratic snags related to my business. I was notified that an order I placed weeks ago has not arrived because it was lost in transit. My “smart” phone wouldn’t let me see my business calendar unless I put in a security pin, which then automatically applied to even accessing my phone. Social security wouldn’t let me set up an account because I placed a freeze on my credit after the Equifax leak. I think it’s safe to say by yesterday evening, I was a venting complainer! But I caught myself and hence the topic of this podcast. I needed to change my complaint-thinking into something positive!
We all complain and most of us don’t even realize how much we complain. Some of us complain because complaints are an easy conversation starter, as it’s usually easy to find common ground in a complaint. Many of us complain simply because it’s become a habit. And some of us complain in attempt to garner validation for our beliefs.
In addition to dampening other people’s moods, complaining impedes personal and organizational progress, can harm team cohesion, may set an example for children that the world is not a safe or good place to be and can prevent us from even attempting to take action that would otherwise be beneficial to us. It can also lead as an excuse for avoiding responsibility, staying focused on a task and being open to new ideas or opportunities.
I reflected last night on what I complain about and was not happy about the length of the list. That’s self-constructive-criticism, not a complaint! I complain about the weather. I complain about having to do something I don’t want to do, like go to the dentist. I complain, way too much it turns out, about the president or the government. I complain about how noisy some of my neighbors are. I complain about my outrageously high electric bill (did you hear the complaint right in that sentence?). And I’m actually a very positive person! The more we complain, the more negative our outlook becomes, so it’s definitely worth examining our own complaining habits and working on changing them.
From a mindful perspective, complaining is finding fault with reality. It usually serves no purpose other than causing us and those around us to suffer to some degree. Maya Angelou said, “What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is to change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”
Researchers have found that happy people complain less than unhappy people. They also found evidence that the happy people in their studies were more mindful. They hypothesize that more positive people are likely to complain more mindfully and with a specific goal in mind.
I highly recommend you try this exercise for a day: Set an intention to go an entire day without complaining and then note every time you catch yourself doing so. Don’t judge yourself for how much you complain. It’s human nature and probably much of it is habitual, so we don’t normally notice. At the end of the day, simply review your list and reflect on how you felt after complaining each time. If you have a laundry list of complaints, pick one at a time for a day to focus on changing the pattern. If you are a chronic complainer about the weather, for example, pick a day that you stay alert to complaining about the weather and each time it comes up, reframe the complaint. “It’s so muggy” can become “at least the humidity is good for my skin.”
I doubt any of us can completely eliminate all complaining about something each day, but we can take steps to eliminate habitual complaining and by becoming more aware of our complaints, we can continue to strengthen our emotional intelligence as well as our mindful practice.
Stay mindful, friends ~ Teresa