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A Kinder Sort of Complaining

It's the start of Advent, the traditional run-up to Christmas and the season of goodwill.

It's also the season for complaining.

According to research, more people complain at this time of year than any other. We go out for meals that make us ill and we complain. We buy expensive gifts which don't do what they're supposed to do and we complain. We tire of the whole commercialisation of Christmas and we complain.

Trainers, of course, are no strangers to complaints. Few other professions receive such instant feedback on their performance. And sometimes it can be harsh and demoralising.

I have worked with fellow trainers who have prepared a course assiduously, given their heart and soul to delivering it, and then been devastated by thoughtless criticism at the end.

The trouble is that today people think they have a right to complain even if they feel the tiniest bit unhappy about the goods and services they receive.

For a start there are those who complain because they believe they have been cheated and want to claw back something in return for their pain. For example, an extra bottle of wine with the meal or a discount on the bill. I call these the Gain Complainers or Pain Complainers.

Then there are those who indulge in complaining as a pastime. They regularly find fault with a product or service just to pit wits with the organisation, little realising that they hurt people in the process. For these types, complaining is a blood sport.

And then there are those who complain out of habit.

The story is told of the monk who entered a monastery where there was a strict vow of silence save for once every 10 years when all the monks were allowed to speak two words.

After the first 10 years, the father abbot called the monk to his office and said, "Well, brother, it's been 10 years. What two words would you like to speak?"

"Food. Stinks." replied the monk.

10 years later, the monk returned to the father abbot's office. "It's been 10 more years, brother. what are the two words you would like to speak?"

"Bed. Hard." said the monk.

Yet another 10 years passed and the monk once again met with the father abbot who asked, "What are your two words now after these 10 years?"

"I quit!" said the monk.

"Well, I can see why," said the father abbot. "All you ever do is complain!"

When I was younger, I worked in one of the first-ever call centres and had a wonderful supervisor who taught me that, no matter how rude the customer was, we should never complain.

Her mantra was: change the 3 C's of Complain, Criticise and Condemn for the 3 A's of Accept, Acknowledge, and Appreciate.

As a result, I don't like to complain. It doesn't feel fair and it doesn't feel nice.

Recently, I was out with my wife at a very expensive restaurant where the food was borderline. It was late at night, the staff were doing their best, and they were probably tired.

Although tempted to complain, we looked at the staff and wondered, "How on earth will our complaining lift their spirits?"

So we didn't complain.

What we did do was tell them how much we appreciated their coming out on a filthy night (it was bucketing outside), how much we enjoyed the surroundings (which were breathtakingly beautiful), and how much we felt valued by the service (which was quick, courteous, and impeccable). We left them to work out that we hadn't mentioned the meal. I like to believe that they were intelligent enough to work that bit out for themselves.

So, over the next couple of weeks of fever-pitch spending, don't snap at people who are doing their best. Don't look for faults where there are none. And don't make yourself miserable by complaining when you could feel great by appreciating.

Instead, practise kindness on a scale like you've never done before. As Henry James said, "Three things in life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind."