Image via The Oatmeal

“Oh yes, I’m a terrific complainer. But I do it with respect and courtesy.”

That’s how legendary designer Michael Wolff explained his reaction to flawed systems in a quite brilliant interview for the YCN magazine. What I liked the most about it was the incredible elegance with which he stated something that otherwise is seen as unpleasant.

Complaining in itself is easy. It’s rooted in human instinct. We constantly want something made better. Or just in a new way but without really giving clear indication about what we’re thinking. “I don’t know, I just don’t like it as it is”. It’s easy. Simple. And nerve-wrecking for all involved. A poorly timed or tone-deaf complaint can ruin the mood of a conversation or relationship, whether it’s on a personal or a professional level.

Which begs a question: is there such a thing as a good way to complain?

(TL;DR — Yes.)

Take any creative brief or tense situation and all we’re really looking for is a new way to answer the question: how can we make this right? But in order to make it right, we need to know how to question what’s wrong with it.

That is where the art of knowing how to complain comes in handy.

Anyone can say, “this is shit, make it better”. Much harder is figuring out why something is shit (or even if ‘shit’ is the right word to describe it) without making huge assumptions that don’t reflect a wider reality. I’ve written before about the importance of complaining but complaining in itself isn’t enough if all we’re doing is stating what’s already in front of everyone else’s eyes.

In essence, this is what a great creative brief is all about. A summary of a big problem with interesting provocations and simple directions around potential solutions. A concise and hopefully inspiring way of saying, “this is shit, this is why it’s shit, this is what we could do about it”.

The ultimate tool to complain with respect and courtesy.

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