Monday, October 15, 2007

Day 1: A Complaint-Free Day?

Writing a blog entry that accurately reports what happened during the day could be construed by a strict referee as "complaining." So I'll be extremely careful to give you the full flavor of the day's events, but I won't be "complaining."

I'm invoking the free speech rule and the no-intent rule. In reporting to you, I have no intent to complain.

To be sure, it is the unintentional complaint that will get you every time. Part of the experiment is to monitor how often you inadvertently find yourself in complaint mode. Simply putting a stop to the "vertent" ones ought to be simpler. But if your instinct is to complain, it's hard to know when your resolve will falter.

I had expected to be on guard all day, measuring my responses to every stimulus in order to avoid complaining, criticizing, or gossiping. In fact, much time passed during this first day where I didn't even think about the experiment. To me, that constitutes a dangerous risk. From everything I've read, this is not supposed to be easy. After one week, Will Bowen, the man who started this experiment in the summer of 2006 (and a man who pastors a church) had been unable to get his personal best down to fewer than five complaints a day. At that point, he was averaging 12 complaints a day, and it took him until September of 2006 to successfully complete 21 straight days without complaining.

It seems that ignorance breeds confidence. If you knew how hard it would be to master a new skill, whether it be skiing, yodeling, or stopping the complaining in your life, you might not even try.

It seems that I'm "supposed" to catch myself complaining multiple times each day. Day 1, then, would be measured as an anomaly if I'm doing this thing right.

So, here's the report:

At five this morning, the next door neighbor with the oversize diesel truck fires it up and revs it outside our open complaint.

At nine, while stepping across Silver Street, a car came racing through the intersection without even slowing down at the flashing red light, coming very close to putting an end to the experiment complaint, although the cars all around me registered their displeasure by leaning on their horns.

At ten, the manager of one of the city's political campaigns asked me "How's business?" I responded, "Slow." I then explained to him the experiment we are conducting and asked him if that sounded like a complaint. "Of course not," he said. "You were just answering a question."

By noon, I had been asked about how satisfied with the subscription fruit and vegetable, community supported agriculture, family farm program we are nearing the end of. I told my interrogator that the Web site was not the program's strong point, in that they often don't update the "menu" of produce each week until it's too late to plan a home menu, but then the questioner was explicity asking me the details of how it works. This questioner is a foodie who knew that this was Day 1, so I asked her to keep me honest by asking "Was that a complaint?" She assured me it wasn't.

By one, I discovered that one of my suppliers had failed to deliver some urgently needed books. For this supplier, this happens often enough that I didn't even consider voicing a complaint.

At 3:30, my newest employee's mom called to inform me that her daughter would be late for her first day at work...again, no complaint.

To be sure, I did have a few close calls where we had to go to the replay for a mandatory review. I scolded myself three times during the day for being fumble-fingered on the keyboard. One rather light-hearted "damn," one whispered "fudge," and one soft-breathed traditional Anglo-Saxon curse word that can be quite offensive when used in anger. But they weren't used in anger and they were directed at my own clumsiness.

And finally, near the end of the day, while sharing the events of the day with my spouse, I told her that conducting training can be harder than it looks, that it can be exhausting. Although she assured me that this did not qualify as a complaint, it doesn't matter, because she had left the building and never even heard me say those words.

I avoided complaining several times where I might normally have done so. Whenever there was a doubt, I asked someone within earshot whether what I said was a complaint or sounded like one and always received a response of "no."

Signing off at 9 p.m.

Tuesday: The Gimmick

Keep those comments coming. Help me make it through Day 2. And if you're in the store or see me on the street, feel free to check on my progress.

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