reverse

The Best Advice So Far - reverse - one yellow rubber ducky swimming the opposite direction in a line of black rubber ducks

We’ve all seen those bumper stickers:

HOW’S MY DRIVING?
555-123-4567

Ever called the number to report that the driver is, in fact, currently driving respectfully and obeying all traffic laws?

After all, the sticker doesn’t say, “Call if I’m driving unsafely or otherwise annoying you.” Yet isn’t that how we tend to read it?

(Yes, I really do think about these things.)

“I want to speak to a manager.”

“Let me talk to your supervisor.”

“I’m going to email your teacher.”

In my experience, these statements are rarely followed by …

“… to let them know what a great job you (or they) are doing.”

It seems to me that perhaps many of us have become naturals when it comes to complaining, while becoming more and more uncomfortable with giving praise where praise is due.

In my last post, where I wrote about crying during a late workout, I mentioned incidentally that there was only one other person in the gym at the time: the overnight employee on duty.

Well, his name is Joe. Let me tell you a bit about him.


If you’ve ever worked the night shift, then you know … it’s no picnic. It takes an exponential toll on you. Yet Joe always smiles and says hello when I walk in. It’s genuine. You can just tell.

In talking with Joe here and there, I’ve learned that he’s an interesting guy with a lot of life behind him, despite his young age. He served in the military. He’s seen more of the world than most. Yet here he is, working a low-wage job without complaint.

And by “working,” I don’t mean simply doing his time and collecting his paycheck. Every time I drive in, I see Joe from a distance before he sees me:

Outside squeegeeing windows.

Inside toting a vacuum pack that makes him look like Dan Aykroyd in Ghostbusters.

Just emerging around the corner from the bathrooms, donning blue surgical gloves (best not to ask).

Keep in mind that this is all going down between 1:00 and 3:00 AM. There’s no manager on shift. Often, there’s not another soul around. Yet there’s Joe, hard at work when he could easily be spinning circles in a desk chair, staring at the ceiling.

No supervisor to keep him on his toes.

But that also means there is no supervisor to notice what an exceptional job Joe is doing, night after night — no one to give him an attaboy, even if only every once in a while.

I think many of us would have no problem picking up the phone and calling to speak to someone if we felt Joe was inattentive or dishonest, or if we felt he’d been rude. But who’s calling to applaud the jobs-well-done by the Joe’s of the world?

I am, that’s who.

And because griping is the norm, I’ve taken to calling this practice “reverse complaining.”

It’s a lot of fun. I highly recommend giving it a try.

*****

Here’s how reverse complaining might look at, say, a local coffee shop where an employee has greeted me with a smile and genuine enthusiasm, then prepared my order quickly and correctly:

Me: Is there a manager I could speak with?

Employee [terrified and tentative]: Yes … was there a problem?

Me: Nope. That’s why I need the manager.

Manager [looking serious and apologetic before I’ve even started]: Hello, sir. I’m the manager. Was there a problem with your order?

[NOTE: The wide eyes, bitten lips, tight jaws or held breath of employees and supervisors alike is further confirmation that complaints abound while compliments are a rarity.]

Me: No, no problem at all. I actually wanted to speak to you to reverse complain about Laura.

Manager [looks confused].

Me: I’ve noticed that Laura has greeted every single customer, including me, with a big smile and warm welcome. There have been some complicated orders, yet she’s somehow gotten them all made quickly and correctly. It’s people like her that make me want to come here rather than going to some other coffee shop.

At this point, the employee will typically beam, blush or gasp, while the manager will have trouble finding the next words.

Manager [after a few beats]: Yes, I agree. Laura is great! We love her. [Pause] Sorry for the delayed reaction there, it’s just so infrequently that anyone calls me over to say something positive.

Warm (and well-deserved) fuzzies ensue.

The Best Advice So Far: Try the curiously effective practice of reverse complaining.

Back to Joe.

The night before last, as I was leaving the gym, I asked Joe who his manager was and if that manager had a card. Joe, like most, looked worried. I quickly assured him that I wanted the information in order to reverse complain about him. He grabbed a card off a nearby desk and passed it along to me.

There was no email address.

As fate would have it, I had previously contacted the owner of the gym for a different reason. So I looked up our last exchange and, using the format of her email address, created six versions using the manager’s name — one of which I hoped would work.

Then I sat down and wrote an email, reverse complaining at length about Joe.

Within a minute or two of sending, I got the dreaded “MAILER DAEMON” reply — six of them, in fact — tipping me off that Joe’s manager, Danny, must not have had a corporate email address after all.

OK, so reverse complaining isn’t always easy.

I then Forwarded the email to the gym owner, whose email address I was sure of, asking her to get the message to the location manager, Danny.

I’m not sure what will come of it. At least I know the gym owner will know who Joe is and that he’s doing a bang-up job. I’d like to think Joe’s manager will also get the message and share the positive feedback with Joe.

Just to be sure, I also called Joe over last night to tell him all the positive things I’d noticed about him.

If I’m not mistaken, there were more of those warm fuzzies on the scene.

*****

There’s an old saying:

“You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

I’m not quite sure about the fly analogy, but it doesn’t seem to be new news that praise works better than punishment toward fostering authentically positive behavior.

Think about it. Which motivates you more: acknowledgement of a job well done … or continual criticism?

What’s more, while reverse complaining certainly stands to encourage others, there’s also something in it for you. (And I don’t mean that others will think you’re a paragon of positivity, which is actually a precarious reason to do much of anything).

What I mean is that being intentional about building habits like reverse complaining helps us keep our own focus positive. Without a doubt, there are instances where speaking up is necessary. However, most complaining tends to be a symptom of a me-problem — essentially a declaration that I didn’t get what I wanted, precisely when and how I wanted it.

Reverse complaining, on the other hand, causing us to be more adept at noticing what is right with the world, with people and with our lives — instead of what’s wrong with them.

If you ask me, that’s a win-win practice worth pursuing.

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