Published June 5, 2014

Complainers Among Us

I’m a big fan of action. My grandfather used to say, “Act or get off the pot.” (He used a different word, but that one’s not printable.) There’s no doubt we’ve all worked with a complainer or two—that person who spends all his time griping about a situation rather than doing something to improve it. Maybe we’ve even been the complainer—stuck in a situation with nowhere to go but down. Either way, an article in Inc. magazine highlights why complainers may hurt your brand in more ways than you know.

According to the article, a group of neuroscientists conducted a study that shows listening to non-stop complaining actual erodes part of your brain—the problem-solving part. So, people who listen to complainers all the time are actually more likely to become complainers themselves rather than help a complainer find ways to improve the situation.

What does this have to do with franchising? Well, there are definitely some complainers in franchising. People who’d rather point out problems than work to find solutions. No matter how your brand scores in franchisee satisfaction, you undoubtedly have a complainer or two. I’m not talking about COMPLAINTS – real gripes/ideas for improvement that even your best franchisees may have. I’m talking about COMPLAINERS—those lifelong malcontents who’d find a problem with you if you handed them a check for a billion dollars and a penthouse in Manhattan (“Ugh. I hate heights. And the view’s terrible. I wanted to look at Central Park, not the East River.”) You know those people—the ones who attend your franchisee convention just to complain about it—or more likely, don’t attend at all, and still find ways to complain about it.

Part of what we strive to do at Franchise Business Review—and part of why surveying is so important—is to separate the complainers from the complaints. I’ve had franchisors tell me that they’re afraid to survey their franchisees because they know they have a few discontented franchisees and they don’t want those voices to come across louder than the others. What these franchisors are missing is that surveying can actually work to flesh out malcontents.

In my experience, nothing feeds the flame of a complainer like leadership that doesn’t communicate. The more you communicate, the more you talk to your franchisees (the good and the bad), the more you strive to find out what makes your franchisees tick and what they need to tick better, the less fodder a complainer has, and the more a complainer is exposed as just a person with a lot of complaints. If your communication as an organization is good—open and honest—then when that complainer starts talking, your other franchisees stop listening.

Of course, no matter how your other franchisees react to a complainer, you may have ask yourself at some point if a complainer or two is worth the trouble–no matter how they affect your bottom line. If that one bad egg is hurting your system as a whole or sucking you dry as a leader, it may be time to cut them loose. And when you talk to prospective franchisees, you may want to spend extra time ensuring that you’re not getting a Negative Ned (or Nelly). Do you already do this as a franchisor? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

About the Author: Molly Rowe

Molly Rowe is the former Editorial Director at Franchise Business Review and reported regularly on top franchise opportunities and the latest trends in franchising. Molly oversaw Franchise Business Review's research and the publishing of FBR's annual Top Franchises Guide, Top Low Cost Franchises Guide, and many other specialty franchise reports.
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