Executive Careers Blog

The Art Of Complaining


My wife and I were having dinner at a Boston seafood restaurant that we like a lot, for the main reason that we’ve never had a bad meal there, or been poisoned.

I ordered fisherman’s stew and immediately felt buyer’s remorse, although I appreciate the idea of being a fisherman.  My wife, more sensible in these matters, ordered grilled shrimp and a baked potato.

Time passed.  The waitress stopped by for a visit and to “explain the story about what happened to your dinner.”  Sounded ominous.  Still, I enjoy a good story as much as the next fisherman.

“Your fisherman’s stew has been ready for some time, but someone stole the grilled shrimp for another table.”  Not good news —  I was especially discouraged about the stew:  Was there something wrong with it?  How come no one wanted to steal it?

More time passed.  When the food arrived, the baked potato was cold, and the broth from the stew had evaporated - or, I could only hope, been stolen.

A manager stopped by to check on things.  We told her the story about dinner.  She looked sad.

“What would you like me to do?” she asked. 

We didn’t have anything particular in mind.

“All right,” she said.  “How about we pay for your dinner?”

We didn’t argue.  She still looked sad.

“Also, I’m also going to wrap up two complimentary desserts - pumpkin cheesecake, and Boston cream pie.”

Completely unnecessary, we said.  But we accepted the gift anyway, in the interest of cheering her up.

Tip #1:  The next time you talk to someone about a problem, consider your approach.  For example, don’t be too fast to offer – or insist on - your solution.  While it’s good to have some suggestions in mind, try letting the other person talk first.

Tip #2: Whenever possible, avoid fisherman’s stew.  Substitute pumpkin cheesecake.


Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (  Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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