Written by Doctor G

The problem is not what you did…


Whether you work in customer service or you lead a household or you run a business, you field a LOT of complaints. There are two problems that arise for the complaint catcher. We’ll get to the solutions right after.

Have you ever heard of “lingchi?” It was a form of (“very unpleasant” according to Times Higher Education) execution in Imperial China, and it translates to “Death by a Thousand Cuts.” This is the first problem – hearing complaints all day picks away at your resilience. No matter how positively you feel about the product or service you provide, or how committed you feel to helping the person who is letting you know about the problem, every single complaint threatens your sense of safety. 

Let me say that again – every single complaint sounds to your brain like a change on the horizon. So your brain worries that you could lose a customer, a relationship, an account, a vendor, an opportunity, your job. Or it worries that you could lose an ally at home, lose love, lose support, lose your family. That sounds super dramatic because our brains – whose function is to keep us alive and safe – are wired to be super dramatic in their risk assessments. 
The second problem is misdirection on the part of the complainer. 

When someone brings you a complaint they talk about what “you” did or didn’t do, how their expectations weren’t met, how the product or service (or family situation) let them down. That’s not actually the problem. The problem is how they feel. They may mention their feelings but they mostly focus on the situation and the actions (or lack). This gives you the mistaken impression that you can solve the problem and heal the relationship by doing something, when that almost certainly won’t actually get you to your desired outcome.

The solutions to both of these problems get much easier when you listen differently:

Every complaint has a desire behind the ask that can bring reconciliation.If you can learn – or teach in your business – the ability to go one layer deeper then you will be able to address this person’s true need, even when you can’t solve the problem itself. For a more full explanation please go watch this short (and closed captioned) video

Once you understand the why behind what they’re saying you will see that you can help them navigate the change they are experiencing even before you solve the stated problem. Because every complaint is a change someone is struggling to navigate.What is a complaint someone has brought to you recently? What was the change they were struggling to navigate? And which of the four underlying issues:

  • Value
  • Accountability
  • Safety
  • Trust

did they really need? Comment and let me know! I see and answer every one.
When you know what they really need, you can deliver even when the stated complaint isn’t currently resolvable. That will build YOUR resilience!

All my best,

Dr. G

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A widely recognized media personality, Dr. G is your go-to expert on resilience. Countless broadcast outlets rely on her contagious humor and illuminating stories to tackle tough topics. She is regularly seen on TV, as well as interviewed for print and digital outlets. Here, she’s answering your questions. Search for the answers you need, or ask her your question now!
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