The Four Rights for a Complainant

DisclaimerIn the manner of evergreen management traditions, my theory should have a catchy title (check), consist of bulletable points (check), must sound absurdly easy once explained (check) and must seem obvious to everyone else when you repeat it (check). You need either an MBA degree or common sense to understand why I would write something like this. 

Ever since that beloved guardian of the morals of our institute, Cyberoam, managed to block that guy who was always sneaking out of the campus without permission – Proxifier – and bringing in all sorts of unwanted junk like blogs, youtube videos, advertisements that we have rarely been exposed to (given that the most popular television set on campus – in the canteen – has been switched off for weeks now because they don’t give channels without being paid for the service), antivirus updates, recreational sites… (I mean, how immoral can you get?) I’ve felt the frustration among the student community grow.

The funny thing about the issue has been the reaction from the crowd. Instead of complaining to the authorities, the bulk have chosen to air their frustrations on the Google groups – where you only meet more frustrated ‘end-users’, not the service providers who have the best chance to provide some much-needed ‘service recovery.’ On the streets, in the canteen, before and after the exams, the common refrain has been, “Oh , Cyberoam’s blocked all the sites again. Wonder what’s left for us to browse? What’s the point of having internet if you can’t download anything? And to think of the thousands we pay for this so-called service…”

What struck me was the odds of the complainants actually taking it to the faculty in question, instead of beating the issue to a death amongst us. How many of us actually know who holds charge now? How many of us bothered to find out?

That led me to the four ‘rights’ for a complainant – things you have to keep in mind if you should have any hope of getting a solution. 
  • Right Tone: Taking an aggressive stance, especially from the very beginning, eliminates all chances of a conciliatory/negotiated solution – instead, it puts everyone in the role of an antagonist to everyone else. The right tone should convey the appropriate mix of genuine need, (un)due respect (without, however, the chamchagiri that politicians espouse), politeness and respect for the other side for taking time off their jobs to listen to you. If sincerity means that you would rather call the guy a duck-headed quack, be prepared to trade off that satisfaction for getting things done.
  • Right Person: The whole effort of complaining is lost if the person I am complaining to cannot do anything about it. Just as I can’t affect the CWG fiasco by talking to my roomie, or even the Director of this institute – or, to draw another parallel, just as the porter on the platform can’t make Indian Railways safer – your complaint needs to reach the right ears of the right person. Timing is critical here, as is the environment in which you find the person.
  • Right Words: You go up to your boss, tell him very politely – even respectfully – that you have a problem with one of your teammates. And then you screw it all up with, “He’s refusing to fill in for me while I go on a holiday with my wife next week when the client’s visiting.” Enough said.
  • Right Time: Unless you’ve just woken after being in a coma for the past year or so, you must be aware of the fuss over the preparations (or lack thereof) for the CWGames. Why is such a fuss being made now? Because we had less than two months (when the media furore kicked off in style), the monsoon loomed ominously and the Page 3 celebrities were not doing anything scandalous. Similarly, if you have a problem, make a noise about it when you are most likely to be heard, when the message can strike home with the full import that you think it deserves. At the same time, make sure your target is in the right mood to give you a favorable hearing.

In other words, complain in the right tone to the right person with the right words at the right time.

At the very least, you’ll have the satisfaction of being efficient, if not effective.