complaining is polite

October 21, 20202 min read

My friend’s dad used to call the waiter over when he didn’t like his food. I was both embarrassed by this and in awe of it. Up until that point, I had always responded to a waiter asking “how is everything?” with “everything’s great, thanks”. I thought I was being polite.

Then I became a software engineer, and I learned to value getting negative feedback. When a customer speaks up, we can fix the issue that they are facing. And chances are, if one customer has a complaint, then many more customers have had the same thought.

The alternative to complaining is a lose-lose for everyone. Bob leaves the restaurant unhappy, and the restaurant loses a customer forever. And they don’t just lose Bob as a customer, but Bob’s friends and family, since he’ll tell them that the food is bad. And the restaurant will keep serving the subpar dish, and one day soon Jill will have the same complaint as Bob. And now the restaurant has lost not just Bob and his friends’ and family’s business, but also Jill and her friends’ and family’s business.

Nowadays, I go out of my way to give businesses feedback. The other day, I ran into a breaking Command E bug that made the app completely unusable. Rather than deleting the app forever and using a competitor, I reached out to the team. I emailed them on Saturday morning and the CTO got back to me on Saturday night — and I feel a bit bad because I suspect he may have spent his Saturday researching my bug. However, it’s possible that I wasn’t the only customer who would face the issue, and Command E could have lost many customers without ever knowing why.

The same principle applies to giving feedback to friends and family. If you tell your friend that you’re frustrated that she’s always late, it might hurt her in the moment. But chances are, if you’re frustrated with her lateness, other friends are too. Her lateness might have had a negative effect on her friendships for years without her ever knowing.

If you have feedback for someone, give it. You are not being ‘polite’ or ‘kind’ by keeping your thoughts to yourself.

Grimes being polite