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On the importance of saying nice things [May. 22nd, 2011|04:18 pm]
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[mood |quixoticquixotic]

Just jotting this down between toddler wrangling and chopping wood. It's going to be messy and a bit long, because I don't have time to edit it.

Was looking on the Boxcutters Podcast website and saw a comment by someone who said, "And if all I seem to do is complain, it’s probably because I don’t really feel the need to say anything about the bits I enjoy, I just enjoy them."

Now who it was, what they complained about, and the subject of the conversation is unimportant. It's this line that really stuck out to me, because it seems to be such a common attitude.

I love what you do, and I figure you know that. I only complain when there's an issue.

This is a remarkably common mindset, and it's also a completely fucked one. I've been a part of various volunteer groups over the years, been friends with literally hundreds of people who have been a part of other volunteer groups, and let me tell you something - it's never easy. Those people who volunteer time for anything, be it a convention, a panel, a podcast, support phone lines, local fire brigades, animal rescue, local radio, volunteer tourist staff, helpers at festivals, emergency relief...

So let me say this very, very clearly -

Every complaint hurts, and no thank you is ever, ever taken for granted.

This holds true in 99% of pretty much every job out there. But here I'm talking specifically about unpaid volunteer work.

Look around you at the things that are there. It doesn't matter if you never use them, other people do, and you may need them some day. But ignore that for the moment, just look at how many things there are out there that are done on a volunteer basis. From the small things, to the big important stuff.

Now imagine the world without them. No fan-run conventions, volunteer help lines, free podcasts, local radio, volunteer fire departments...

A lot of it takes training or at least a huge learning curve, some of the free volunteer stuff you enjoy actually costs the volunteers money to do, and every bit of it takes time in which these people could be doing other stuff. Hell, for many of them, their lives would be a damned sight easier if they weren't doing this.

Trust me on this. If when you do speak up it's only to point out mistakes, complain, or offer what you believe is constructive criticism, no-one takes the times you are silent as affirmation of their work. They don't sit there going "such-and-such hasn't complained, we must be doing a good job." They just keep working away, doing the best they can, and the next time they see your name on an email or letter to them they dread looking at it.

They dread it because you're going to ignore the personal cost in terms of time, and possibly money, to essentially tell them they're doing a poor job. Or you're going to helpfully suggest all the stuff they could be doing, suggest increasing the workload substantially, with no offer of help or suggestion where they can get the extra hands and minds to do the work. They dread your messages because you're going to hurt and frustrate them yet again, and make them feel like shit.

You're going to make them feel bad. For volunteering their time and energy free of charge for something you need or at least enjoy.

Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't complain about problems. The only way to sort out issues is to make them known. But before you complain, think for a moment about what you're going to say. These people are volunteers. Most of them aren't professionals. They do all this sort of stuff because it needs to be done, or no-one else is doing it, or it will make the world a slightly better, more interesting place.

These people care about what they do, they care about doing it as best they can, and they put in this time so other people can benefit. So don't hold them up to impossible or unrealistic standards, and don't treat them like they are slack, lazy, or stupid.

I've done a lot of stuff. And it doesn't matter how many compliments I get, I'm always hideously aware of what I got wrong, or what I didn't get to do, or what didn't quite work. Every compliment makes me feel happy, in spite of what I know I stuffed up. It makes me humble and makes me want to try harder to do it better next time.

One aggressive or poorly worded complaint can easily and permanently remove all the compliments and thanks I got from everyone else. And it makes me wonder why I ever bothered doing it in the first place.

And I'm one of the truly lucky ones, in that I'm usually pretty visible, so people notice me and think to thank me. Many people aren't that lucky, but they do just as much or significantly more than I do, and they only ever get to hear the complaints.

If you can usually find the time to complain, then you've no excuse for failing to compliment. Compliments set a benchmark far better than complaints will ever do. Complain enough, and people just stop listening to you, even when you're right.

It is important to tell people when they mess up, but it's way, way more important to tell them when they are getting it right. Because you're just the latest in the long, long line of people ready to find fault and complain about something.

So look at all the things that would be missing from the world without all the people volunteering their time, and try instead to be one of the rare few who ever think to say, "Thank you, I appreciate what you're doing."

[User Picture]From: murasaki_1966
2011-05-22 07:22 am (UTC)
Hear! Hear!
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[User Picture]From: arcadiagt5
2011-05-22 07:27 am (UTC)

Then applauds some more.
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[User Picture]From: mortonhall
2011-05-22 08:14 am (UTC)

could not agree more.

and, thank you for writing this.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2011-05-22 08:43 am (UTC)
Took Lex on the local volunteer run train yesterday. These guys were out doing track maintenance the week before in two inches of snow! It was that, combined with the comment on the Boxcutters blog, that really got me stirred up.

That person's comment really irked me, because it feels like such a common attitude. The irony being that the people who don't compliment will be the first to complain when something vanishes.

I remember clearly all the fans who complained about the lack of fan-run conventions in Melbourne. So I start Continuum, and so far I can name two of the original complainers who have come to one. One of whom keeps whingeing about it, but has never once offered assistance or suggestions of who could come and help out to achieve the things they want. Or offered to pay for it.

Then there was the complaint after C1 that upset me so much, even after the near universal compliments, that if I hadn't already announced C2, there would never have been another Continuum. When I told them that, they were rather surprised that I took their comments so hard.
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[User Picture]From: ariaflame
2011-05-22 08:31 am (UTC)

I believe that's the terminology for saying that you have hit the nail right on the head.

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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2011-05-22 08:44 am (UTC)
Apparently 'word' is one of these new phrases the kids use, like 'neat.'
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[User Picture]From: kaelajael
2011-05-22 09:03 am (UTC)
Can I just say, I LOVE YOU!

You have said this almost perfectly! Thank you.

The only think I would like to add, is that when people have a valid complaint, they need to address it properly - let the appropriate people know exactly what the issue is, rather than just whining publicly about generalisations. Nothing will get fixed that way.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2011-05-22 12:09 pm (UTC)
Loved our too brief chat at Swancon :)

I know of people who say that they complain loudly and publically because that gets results when polite stuff doesn't, except they don't usually try the polite version first. Their excuse is that they've tried it in the past, and it hasn't worked.

Fine, it didn't work with that group, doesn't mean it won't work with this group.

And expecting an instant response from a volunteer group is unfair and unrealistic, too. This is something they do in their spare time. If you haven't received a response after a three or four days, send a second email inquiring politely as to whether they got your first one. Emails do go missing, get missed, forgotten, etc.

Emailing someone else from the group is another option. If someone has had a major disaster in their life, or are having computer issues, they may not be able to get your email.

I think you have to take all the reasonable steps to do things politely and correctly and then, if they act like arses, go public. Give them the same chances and respect you'd like people to give you before being publically called names.
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[User Picture]From: delicious_irony
2011-05-22 11:19 am (UTC)
Thank you for speaking up. Thank you for saying this.

Yet another reason why I love and respect your brain. :)
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[User Picture]From: stephbg
2011-05-22 12:13 pm (UTC)
Well said young man.
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From: gutter_monkey
2011-05-22 12:58 pm (UTC)
This blog post is too long, I want an apology and a refund!!!
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2011-05-22 01:03 pm (UTC)
Hooray! Glad you're still about.

I was thinking about you only yesterday. Nothing weird or anything - I was naked, masturbating and covered in marsupial mole fur and honey, and thinking, "Really need to give Guttermonkey a call."
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[User Picture]From: mireille21
2011-05-22 01:19 pm (UTC)
Reading comments on your posts is a bit like eating a pack of Tim Tams - one must always remember to stop before getting to the last one or you are liable to feel a bit sick afterwards. :)
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2011-05-22 01:23 pm (UTC)
What a coincidence, I'm right in the middle of thinking about you...
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[User Picture]From: mireille21
2011-05-22 01:57 pm (UTC)
In that, "Ew, stop it stop it now" kind of way, or in that school m'am standing over you with a whip saying "You're a very naughty boy" kind of way?
I'm not helping am I?
I should go to bed. I don't think so well when I'm this tired. Obviously.
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[User Picture]From: grassynoel
2011-05-22 10:07 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2011-05-23 12:39 am (UTC)
Thank you :)
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[User Picture]From: transcendancing
2011-05-23 01:07 am (UTC)
Beautifully said.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2011-05-23 06:24 am (UTC)
As I mentioned above, one particularly unpleasant attack would have completely killed off Continuum if I hadn't publically announced C2.

And this is where the armchair experts can really harm things. If I'd ended Continuum then and there, there would have been no C2 or C3. C3 brought in a couple of newbies who are now amongst of the best and most amazing con-running talent it's been my privilege to know.

You can't expect everyone who makes a complaint to step up and do the work, it's unrealistic. But I do think anyone who seems to complain a lot should be told, "No, we're not paying any attention to you unless you join committee and help out in those areas."

Actually, I have done this on a couple of occasions, and it's amazing how many times the complainers will backpeddle or have all sorts of excuses why they can't help out if you call them on their crap.
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[User Picture]From: pre_vet_girl
2011-05-23 05:16 am (UTC)
Last week I had the amazing albeit exhausting experience of volunteering for the national Vet Association conference. The hours were long, the work tiring, but through it all the organisers couldn't thank us enough for helping out. We got some free goodies but the most appreciated part was the thanks. That feeling of being appreciated turns essentially a hard slog into something I'd be prepared to do again, rather than something I'd run screaming from.
The inquiries into the Eyre peninsula and Black Saturday bushfires concerned me when they started targetting volunteers - CFS & CFA are mostly staffed by volunteers, usually don't have enough of them, and I have heard of at least one case where a volunteer firefighter lost his house because he was out fighting for someone else's. Surely the last thing we want to do is put people off volunteering for these things?
It is so easy to sit back & criticise, more people need to get off their buts if they have a problem, and put more effort into expressing thanks.

Well said. I only wish more people would see this article. Could we make it a new rule that before you can complain you must spend twice as much effort on complimenting?
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2011-05-23 06:41 am (UTC)
While this is about volunteers being treated like crap, it astounds me how people don't think paid workers deserve a thank you. I worked for a boss who I had constant battles with over his treatment of staff. He never said please or thank you to any of his staff, and basically thought the idea was a waste of time.

I've known of volunteer fireys who have had people basically accuse them of not trying hard enough to save their homes. Sorry, but sometimes they have to choose to lose certain battles to have any hope of winning the war and, more importantly, not losing any lives. And you hear about the firefighter who lost their own home, and you can just picture one of these idiots saying, "My house burnt down because you didn't try hard enough."

The people who complain are usually in the minority, but the real issue is that in spite of the fact that the people who appreciate this stuff are legion, fewer of them offer thanks and compliments than the number of people who complain. So it tends to feel like all one ever gets are people who are unhappy with them.
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[User Picture]From: pre_vet_girl
2011-05-24 02:25 am (UTC)
When I worked in the call centre, (a) the bosses were not very good at making the staff feel appreciated and (b) we (the staff) would go to soooo much more effort for customers who were nice compared to customers who were horrible.

Simple equation you would have thought.

Thank you for all the stuff you do :-)
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[User Picture]From: cheshirenoir
2011-05-23 11:05 am (UTC)
(Erm, have been away from LJ for a few days)
YAY! Agreed!

And yes, the people who SH!T me the most are those ones who offer criticism but when challenged to put their money where their mouth is either evade the question or claim "Oh I don't do that kind of thing".

There's at least one fan I'm only borderline polite too because of that attitude. Repeat whinger and never offers to help, even when challenged.

If I don't like something at a con I VOLUNTEER to help make it better! If they won't let me I go do my own con! (For instance I run a pretty tight front desk :-)

And I must say a BIG THANK YOU to all volunteers out there, from the ones who run cons to the ones who help me run cons to ANYONE who has ever volunteered.
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[User Picture]From: linstar
2011-05-25 09:17 am (UTC)
I only just got around to reading this last night, and I have to say, I am mightily impressed by you and how well you wield your pen. This was an awesome post hon.

It made me think about all the things I do, and you're right. The biggest pleasure really does come from the small unexpected thank yous that are given. Like the family offering us cups of tea in the middle of the night because we're out there in the rain, or like recently when we organised the Rewards and Recognition night for our volunteers and invited along a couple who had put in a lot of hard work for the unit (they service our flood boat and it's never too hard for them). They came along to our
event, and were so impressed with us they wanted to make a donation to the unit. Little things like that make it well and truly worthwhile.

So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for taking the time you do to make others feel appreciated and significant. Thank you for bringing these thoughts to the fore and sharing them. Thank you for being the incredibly amazing, awesome person you are, and for being an inspiration to so many. *huge hugs and lots of love!*
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