Saturday, May 31, 2008

Susie Boyt on the fine art of complaining

Susie Boyt, fashion editor of the Financial Times, has a simply wonderful column in today's FT Weekend on the art of complaining. It is worth quoting it at length.

The art of complaining is very hard to master. To complain about things in my experience is always lowering. Who wants to draw attention to the fact you have been slighted? Isn't that in itself a form of failure? Complaining stylishly and with grace and or flair seems virtually impossible. A good complaint requires both a lightness of tone and high-handedness, humour, collusion from the other party and a quiet tenacity. This is a lot to muster when you've just been disappointed. Yet you do have to stick up for yourself in life on occasion. Is there a way of pointing out poor treatment in a way that doesn't auger humiliation? Ought we all to practise complaining in a manner both debonair and imperious on Sunday nights to prepare us for any disappointing occasions in the coming week?
What she assumes in this column is that our complaints are legitimate and not, for example, the result of a misunderstanding. More times than not, this is the case. However, it is entirely possible that your complaint is not, in fact, justified, and her emphasis on being gracious is even more important if this is the case. You might be overreacting; there might be extenuating circumstances that explain the situation. Perhaps your order is extremely late coming from the kitchen because the chef just received a phone call that his daughter has been in a car accident, and he had to leave just as a number of orders came in.

There's also the possibility that you might be wrong. Always something to keep in mind. Perhaps you didn't get that big promotion at work because the woman they hired really is much more qualified than you. Maybe you got a lousy grade on your paper because your argument was pretentious and nonsensical. Perhaps your neighbors filed a complaint against you because your son has been practicing with his rock band until early in the morning. It's always important to remember the other person's perspective.

Excellent advice from across the pond. Much obliged, Ms. Boyt.

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