If you read this column often, you know I'm not fond of CAVE people, Citizens Against Virtually Everything. These are the people who, if they had won last week's Powerball prize of $590 million, would still find something to complain about.
I can just hear them now: "I have to drive all the way to Tallahassee to get it. I have relatives coming out of the trees."
They hate change, progress, their neighbors and puppies.
Most of us aren't like that, and when we do complain it's legitimate and important. Businesses who openly accept - and actually look for - complaints are very smart and progressive businesses. If you get a complaint, whether you're a business or just a neighbor, here are some key things to remember.
My mother always said, "You have two ears and one mouth. Use them accordingly."
In other words, the most important thing to do is to listen. Listen. Listen.
Let the person say everything he wants to say, no matter what it is, until he's done. Often we don't need to be right as much as we need to be heard. Don't interrupt and especially don't contradict. There will be time to refute facts later in the process.
Once the complainant has finished, ask whatever questions you have in a caring and concerned manner. Get as many facts as you can and get him to elaborate on areas you feel may not be legitimate. The more hard data you have, the better you can see where he's coming from.
Next, practice empathy. This is where you repeat back to him what you heard to make sure there is no confusion. Then follow with, "Now that I understand, I see why this was a problem."
Validating a person's feelings creates a scenario where you are both on the same side of the situation. The goal here is to solve the problem, not keep fighting about it.
The most important thing the complainer wants to hear is an apology. It must be sincere and genuine. Don't be defensive or blame someone else. Just apologize and move on.
Then ask, "What would be an acceptable solution to you?"
Be prepared for him not to have the haziest idea of what he wants. You may offer two or more options. By doing so you show you are actively trying to solve the problem to his satisfaction. And that's what he wants.
Then solve the problem, or find someone who can solve it - quickly! If it can't be fixed immediately, have a firm date for follow up and keep it. Not everything can be taken care of on the spot, so make sure all parties know what the next step is and who is responsible for making it.
And finally, thank him for his constructive complaint. It signals that communication lines are open. You don't know to fix a problem if you aren't aware it exists in the first place.
Communication makes for great business relationships and better neighbors. We're not talking CAVE people here or chronic complainers who just like to hear the sound of their own voices. But when there is a legitimate issue, follow these steps and they will lead to a peaceful solution.
Dana Dittmar is the executive director of the Sun City Center Area Chamber of Commerce.