Often, Complaining is a Good Thing

Salvaging another article from the LinkedIn Archive

Back in December 2014, before “UK” LinkedIn became a post-Brexit xenophobic, Islamophibic cesspit (I know! A “professional networking” site. My a** it is!). I wrote an article on LinkedIn Pulse explaining why your own employees complaining is a goldmine of information that often preempt what your customers will think. It’s a topic that many commentators and business owners are now starting to appreciate and discuss in earnest.

There is a substantial amount of value in the feedback your employees give. In technical, usability and business senses. They also provide such feedback well before products hit the market and as a result, provide you with a tonne of opportunity to part-shape a product, process or offering before customers ever get to see it. Part of the “complaint” is healthy debate. Discussing the merits or otherwise of an idea or practise is the first point to changing it for the better.

There is a little asshole in everyone and it only requires them to stretch past their limit, for all their shit to come out involuntarily.

However, as we’ve seen appear so vociferously in tech over the last year, there are limits. Agencies who, with the best will in the world, are unable to debate, articulate or express anything other than a visceral hatred of something, exist in organisations across the board. Otherwise rational people hold deep, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and inter-sectional prejudices that can and do affect the working environment to the detriment of the company as a whole. Such biases cloud everything such individuals say, see or comprehend, sometimes even making them unable to do the job they were employed to do. An incorrect decisions to engage with such unconsicious bias can affect the standing, focus and performance of individuals, sucking away time and productivity. This is in essence, the epitome of the “no a**holes” rule. We have to take care that we don’t misattribute a**hole to a lower than necessarily standard, granted, but in reality, there is a little asshole in everyone and it only required them to stretch past their limit, for all their shit to come out involuntarily.

As we’ve seen, Tesla boss Elon Musk got this wrong. Personally, I believe Musk was extremely naive in his assumption that he could genuinely shape Trump policy (nah, Trump is a law unto himself. Now he’s president, he thinks he is the law) and whilst Musk signalled his intent to leave the two Trump councils he sits on, after Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord, the Tesla founder needs to take from that, that visceral forces permeate deeper and faster than any meritocratic perspectives we wish to employ. The whole thing get uglier and more uncomfortable in very short periods of time. Unless, like Facebook, your business is aligned to user representation, you do not wish to engage the services of far right “nut jobs”, as they’ll steal the company you founded from right under your nose.

Key Words: “Customer Representation”

Back in 2006, I joined the board of a bureau of a federated UK non-profit brand. Back then, we went on a drive to encourage more people from the service user bases to engage with the charity and indeed, take places on the board. It was a noble aim and crucially, allowed us to gain insight into the service user base that we otherwise would never have got.

The same is true in business. Facebook understands this and I argue, quite rightly (as much as I hate it), it is looking to engage right wing thinkers in their management base. The position is correct in principle. As much as we want to ignore right wing and far-right pariah, they exist in our society and for Facebook to match society, they have to have that representation. It’s why so many far and alt-right groups exist on Facebook, which claim democracy and freedom of speech but then censor dissenting voices and “vote” to remove or target minority groups. Tapping into these positions, organisations such as Facebook are likely to get a lot of arguments amongst its ranks. As long as it doesn’t then lose meritocratic and left-leaning voices, pushing the company the other way, then all’s good. But we have to be prepared to deal with those who’s judgement is impaired by their visceral positions and worse, watch for the signatures of those in the center who inadvertently come to the defence of the left or right-wing attacker, leaving the vulnerable victim subjected to an unintentional lynch. Such centrists often continue to defend a nonsensical position way past the point of reason and evidence, which in turn, pushes them into visceral positions of their own.

Careful Facilitation

And herein lays the solution. Firstly, an admission.

Hi, my name is Ethar and I am a troll.

Why do I troll? OK, granted, it’s not really trolling in the standard sense. Part of it is experimentation, part is debate maneuvering…

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A long running troll debate

…and part indeed, is beating down on bullying (aka fighting fire with fire — link to why).

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One right wing, Leave.EU supporter’s fake news on Islam
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The other party’s continued persistence in rekindling the Islamophobia and crucially, the number of replies to this thread. Almost 50% were mine shutting down argument after argument, with fact after fact and the almost all of the rest were another group member, a centrist, otherwise rational, who inadvertently was defending the Islamophobic attack, despite the presentation of facts. Once in that position, they were lost but getting out of that position for them, is extremely difficult. Even rejecting outs when they are offered them.

As unorthodox as it seems, it’s arguably useful to go through these exercises to understand more about certain segments of people (debating with bots is still useful, as it presents arguments to other observers). If you don’t get the practise in dealing with them, including finding the triggers that escalate them too ( but make sure you can diffuse and deescalate) then you can’t deal with a real life situation when a disagreement gets out of control and crucially, spot both the early warning signs and when folk are having a hard time (i.e. learn to fix something before you can break it). But crucially if a fact exists, and your participants rational, use facts as much as possible (if not exclusively) and bring it back to the facts all the time, bringing it back to the objective world, naturally depersonalises it.

Nobody has a right to an opinion in the presence of fact

The odd thing is you get people who carry an opinion on a topic that is demonstrably untrue and non-factual, despite a clear, unequivocal fact exists on the topic. These are arguably dangerous people, as they have left reality behind and thus, are unable to engage in rational debate. If you work in the knowledge industry, it’s also very likely they are unable to carry out their duties in a sufficiently objective manner. If they can’t support fact, or discern fact from fiction, I personally consider them incapacitated in knowledge work.

Hate is transported through the medium of stupid.

So my summary is that, yes complaints are definitely a good thing. The question is how rational are they when responding and what’s their angle?


Written by

EA, Stats, Math & Code into a fizz of a biz or two. Founder: Automedi & Axelisys. Proud Manc. Citizen of the World. I’ve been busy

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