Amy Benton

We all complain. In our heads, out loud, and sometimes to anyone who will listen. We complain about long lines, cable problems, weather, and schedules. But when technology goes awry in our classrooms, our lives suddenly go into a tailspin. Everything is put on hold. It is at this moment, where frustration and confusion combine and combust, that I personally see a dark shade of red.

How do you calm down and become an effective complainer? A rainy, Saturday morning session at MacWorld2014 provided an unexpected solution to this problem: the surprisingly poignant talk ignited several interesting conversations and parallels to other aspects of our lives as educators, technology coordinators, and human beings in general. Joe Kissell’s workshop about complaining was funny. It was entertaining. And, it was absolutely relevant in our digital, technology soaked culture. I’ve taken some of his tips and created a sort of “How-To” for the novice, and experienced, complainer. But who are we kidding? We were born complaining.

Here’s how it works: to begin, take the complaint directly to the source of your pain. Don’t start off in fighting mode or stage a social media rage campaign. Kissell reminded me of the saying “complain in private, praise in public.” Drawing attention to oneself only for the sake of being heard is never flattering. Neither is the online “One-Star” review. Keep it clean, keep it positive.

Consider User-Error
Before you complain, remind yourself that most of what irritates us in the first place can be traced to “User Error.” Be humble and consider a “reset” of the situation. Restart your workstation or device. Reflect for a moment on what you’d like to accomplish by complaining in the first place.

Now, decide on your avenue of delivery: complaining through the front door (calling the district CIO); via email (sending an IT help-desk ticket request); or web support (Apple support pages). You might consider a side door (emailing someone else in your department, your school, or at the district) or exploring an educator support network. Consider asking your tech-savvy students. Try hanging out in Genius Bars. Work your way up. And while going to complain in person has never been a good experience for me personally (neither has letter-writing) either of these is certainly an option. There is a reason I do not work in customer service, or food and beverage and I will leave it at that.

Four Steps

Kissell’s best ideas are spelled out in a four-step process that I am now employing in my daily life, both at work and at home. I have learned to:

  1. Be Polite. Taking your frustration out on the worker bee or secretary that answers the phone will not get you any further than sitting behind your desk. There is a great deal of padding between you and the actual “fixer” of these problems, and the worker bee at the bottom of the food chain can (and will) make or break the success of your experience.
  2. Be objective and specific. You never want to say “Why don’t you just…..You’re product is…..You are……(insert verbs and colorful language),” None of these interactions will solve your problem and will only increase your heart and failure rates.
  3. Be helpful. Make sure you are a clue-FUL customer (teacher) and know what things are called. Complaining about the “spinning thing” and the “whizzing noise on the side” and that it “just won’t do what I want it to do” will get you redirected. Administration may be “unavailable,” you may find yourself listening to elevator music, and you will, no doubt, ensure your place in the on-hold queue indefinitely. Provide enough data to diagnose the problem.
  4. Be Clever. By far the single most important part of your complaint process is this one. Using Humor to engage the technology assistant (think: customer service rep) will entice them to help you. By using compliments and a light manner, you will no doubt establish a positive rapport with the helper, and quickly resolve your problem.

If all else fails, remember to be disarming. Consider bribery or, even, song. Dave Carroll and Sons of Maxwell’s www.unitedbreaksguitars.com might provide some inspiration. www.DearCustomerRelations.com has some perspective on complaint letters that could shine some light on the urgency, or lack, of your problem. Complaint choirs (bit.ly/1jdJCbn) are forming daily, and your voice might be the next one to inspire change in the company receiving your complaint. Or not.

The main point here is to not take yourself too seriously. Remember, public shaming and social media rants are the equivalent of graffiti. Not too pretty, and not very effective.