Many highly successful people and companies deliberately invite complaints.  They view complaints as a resource to help them become more efficient, more effective.

Here are four rules to follow when receiving a complaint:

One.  Look at a complaint as potentially valuable information.   Every year, organizations spend millions of dollars paying consultants and research teams to find out what customers, and potential customers, think about them.   Whenever someone complains to you, you are getting such information free.

Two.  Evaluate the complaint.  Analyze the complaint to see what core elements of information it contains.  Sometimes a complaint is like a volcanic eruption.   The mixture may contain several basic complaints, some important, some trivial.  Ask yourself, “What is in this complaint that I can use?”

Three.   Evaluate the complainer.  Does the person really know?  Is she going off half-cocked?  Is he emotionally overwrought?   All complainers are not created equal.

Stanley Marcus once told me that complainers helped make Neiman-Marcus a great store.  He said a tiny percentage of hard-to-please customers found fault with everything.  These were among the store’s most discriminating customers.  One reason they were so hard to please was because they were well-traveled individuals who had seen the best in the world, and could afford to pay for it if they liked it.  Instead of ignoring these individuals or treating them as troublemakers, Marcus courted them, listened carefully to their complaints, and as a result raised the standards of his Dallas department store to world class.  He discovered that if he pleased them, he pleased others too.  Count yourself lucky if somebody who is world class takes the time to criticize you.

Four.  Create some psychological distance between yourself and the complaint, especially if it’s harsh.  This takes practice.  If someone is letting you have it with both barrels, or even if they are telling you gently, it is not always easy to realize that what you are hearing is information that might be very valuable.

Don’t let criticism destroy your self-confidence.  The ego is fragile.  One of the most important differentiating characteristics between achievers and non-achievers is how they handle failure and criticism.  Nonachievers say, “I’m a failure.”  Achievers say, “I did something that didn’t work.  I’ll do it better next time.”

Adapted from Time Tactics of Very Successful People by B. Eugene Griessman (McGraw-Hill). The book contains four additional rules:  p126.  Dr. Griessman also wrote the book  99 Ways To Get More Out Of Your Life and an accompanying audio book of the same name..  His website is

Gene Griessman is an internationally known keynote speaker, actor, and communication strategist. His book “TheWords Lincoln Lived By” is in its 23rd printing and “Time Tactics of Very Successful People” is in its 43rd printing. His training video “Lincoln on Communication” is owned by thousands of corporations, libraries, and government organizations. He has spoken at conventions and annual meetings all over the world. To learn more about his presentations, call 404-435-2225. Learn more at Atlanta Speakers Bureau or at his website. His latest book “Lincoln and Obama” has just been released by Audible.
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