Complaining often gets a bad rap. But at Resolver, we know that complaining is more than just mouthing off, getting even, or our money back. Making a complaint is about taking care of our well-being and a community of fellow consumers.
Psychologists have shown that experiences of unfairness take a severe toll on our emotions, relationships, and sense of agency. Because of this, complaining as a means of challenging unfair situations has a vital role to play in our individual sense of well-being, as well as experiences of citizenship and community. But it is not a simple or straightforward issue.
We all know that complaining can be cathartic. And as well as getting something off our chests, standing up for ourselves has a positive role to play in society and social groups.
In their research on the psychology of complaining, Dr. Mike Baer and researchers at Arizona State University explored the effects of ‘unfairness talk’ in the workplace, a really common example of how we bond with others over shared negative experiences.
Studies like this show that complaining about negative experiences may be an important way we build relationships. When we express how we feel about an unfair situation there are usually plenty of others who have had the same experience and will come to back us up.
But venting has its limits. Baer and his co-authors also found that a culture of complaining can actually lead to worse outcomes for everyone. Complaining can increase negative emotions like anger and make us behave less like good citizens, attacking or distancing ourselves from others rather than working with them to make things better.
Research like this shows that complaining does not necessarily make us feel better or actually help the situation. That little bit of relief we get from airing our grievances or having our feelings of outrage validated by others is very real. But this can end up doing more harm in the long run.
Every day at Resolver, we hear about the suffering so many consumers experience when they make a complaint. Unfortunately, for many of those who get in touch with us, an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and helplessness can accompany the process of getting a company to help them fix a problem or take responsibility for a negative experience. Beyond the specific problem someone might be trying to resolve, such as a faulty gas meter or undelivered package, there are often many sleepless nights, stress-related illnesses, and intense feelings of alienation, anger, and frustration.
It seems like common sense that complaining can be damaging to our well-being. Someone who sees the glass as always half empty no matter what is clearly going to be more unhappy than someone who sees the bright side in almost any situation. Yet, on the other hand, we see the negative effects of consumers being told to keep quiet about bad experiences, put off complaining by overly-complicated communication processes, or having their concerns minimized, dismissed, or not taken seriously when they do. This makes being on the receiving end of unfairness – as well as getting the actual problem resolved – even harder.
We have been thinking long and hard about the complexities of complaints and our role in helping those raising and responding to them. We have always aimed to help consumers empower themselves rather than act on their behalf. But given the increased strain that so many consumers and businesses are under these days, we are seeking new ways to use our expertise in what people raising complaints are feeling and what individuals and businesses are doing right or wrong when they try to resolve issues.
Inspired by the research of those like Baer, we are on a mission to help reframe what making complaints can do and help our users move forward from negative experiences feeling more empowered.
We believe that even when there has been a negative situation, there should always be a sense that this can be fixed, and that we can move forward and continue to cooperate with others. Rather than cementing feelings of disappointment, anger, and alienation, we want our service to promote feelings of forgiveness and give our users a greater sense of agency in being able to get problems sorted.
Raising a complaint should be about looking out for yourself and others, not driving yourself crazy. Over the coming weeks, we are going to focus on the question of how to maintain good mental health and find effective strategies when complaining. Our upcoming series of articles on complaints and well-being aims to help you stay well when tackling tricky issues and increase awareness of the more positive impacts of complaining.
Beyond stewing in initial feelings of anger about being treated unfairly, we will explore how the act of complaining effectively can actually generate feelings of hope, give back a sense of agency and lead to more acts of cooperation.
Finding more positive value in complaining is not just about complaining less, but being selective about who you complain to and strategic about how you do it. We will be delving into the ins and outs of complaining effectively and the best techniques for getting complaints heard and, ultimately, resolved.
As well as suggesting some ways we can become better complainers, and feel better while dealing with negative or stressful experiences, we will highlight the positive collective effects of complaints. We will show ways that an individual negative experience can become the basis of a supportive community.
Being passionate about fairness means always trying to see things from both sides. We will also be offering some advice for those of you who own a small business or online shop and may at some point be the person receiving and responding to a customer complaint. Our guides will provide some insight into ways you can be a better active listener, meet someone where they are, and move forward more cooperatively.
So keep your eyes out for this upcoming content and if you have any thoughts on other aspects of complaining and well-being you would like us to cover, feel free to get in touch with us at email@example.com.