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The "4-Hour Work Week" book by Tim Ferriss has a section where he brags about being a "squeaky wheel". Basically his story is that whenever he gets a low grade he goes into the office and complains until the TA/Professors gets tired. This way he "trains" them to give him a hirer grade as to prevent future encounters.

I thought that was rather underhanded and rewards bad behavior...but if it works, people will continually to do that. My question though is how this applies from a culturally perspective. My impression is that whining in some culture is frowned upon...and sometimes leads to worse outcomes for the "whiner".

Rodney Johnson

Bob, where is the fine line between whining/complaining and feedback. I'm certain that many organizations view what could be considered feedback as whining, and possibly vice-versa. If this is the case, this is a problem.

Isn't whining simply another form or feedback? If the original feedback not achieve results, isn't the next logical step - whining?

And if whining produces results, doesn't this simply suggest that a problem might exist? Otherwise, it would have been defended.

When feedback is viewed as whining, isn't this a silent problem that will impact business performance?

Ed Reid

"If you don't ask, you won't get it."

Many people live by that. Others are offended by the perceived unfairness of those asking getting what they want. Is it unfair? That may depend on culture, personal beliefs, etc.

Perhaps there should be more Art and Science of Negotiations classes - for both professors and students.

Also, I'd like to see the results of a survey of "the ideal organization" as well.

Jaana Valimaki

Great topic!
I just recently have been thinking about this "whining" thing, especially in the classroom. In one of my MBA classes a student complained (he did a very silly and clear mistake in an assignment and missed points) that it was the fault of a professor that he didn't clearly enough state what needed to be done. To me the assignment was very straightforward and clear, and the student in my mind, was the only person to be blamed. But no, the professor gave him more time to revise the assignment! This is very wrong and unfair in my opinion. What my underlying point is that classrooms in the U.S need more discipline, and respect towards the professors and fellow students. Professors sometimes let the students walk all over them. There are good complaints too, but they need to be backed up and respectfully expressed.

Zac Rogers

Dr. Sutton,
This is a great observation. In almost every organization I have been a part of I have found that the loud people have gotten more attention. It makes sense that this would be the case. Certainly in my own life I pay more attention to the louder things. However, I find that in US culture "whining" and "complaining" are looked at as undesirable behaviors. Why do you suppose this is the case if they are in fact effective?

Derek Panoply

I agree that there are many professors out there who reward obnoxious students in the manner you describe. I'd suggest however that there is also the other side to the problem.

I recently finished an MBA program and found in one case that a terrible professor (inconsistent teaching, hostile responses to questions, lack of command of his material, fixation on personal grievances irrelevant to the course) used this same policy to discourage questions about grading.

Any questions at all about why largely unexplained and often glaringly wrong grades were assigned was taken as a request for regrading. Then the professor took obvious delight in finding at least three other places to lower the mark for every undeniable error in marking that the student asked about. It goes without saying that most of the students in the class ended up disgusted and concentrated on minimizing all contact with the professor, in an effort to survive and get out. Education suffered.

While reflexively complaining students are a trend, I wanted to point out that vindictive professors can also be. Hopefully both in a minority.

Alicia-Ann Caesar

Thanks for highlighting this topic. I have always found the "squeaky wheel," approach - annoying, I thought to myself what good is complaining, but after returning to the class room as a student and witnesing the benefits "squeaky wheels" get and seeing it work recently at my job I am rethinking just what "complaining," brings to the table.

Last week I was horrified to witness a professor at my university cave in to some students in my class, who complained that he had not been specific enough in his assignment. At the time I thought to myself- they have to be joking and stop complaining your grown adults- but then the umimaginable happened as my professor back tracked and changed their grades. Now I see why the students complained - they knew they were wrong (I hope), but saw that my professor was not sure of himself and his system- so they went for it- they tried and succeeded in manipulating the makes a non-complainer rethink my approach to everyday problems.

Also at work I have recently noticed that the people who complain the most about having "so so much work to do," my boss- she tends to then not give them more work...hmmm

I am starting to see that there is some benefit to speaking up and plan to workon being more vocal at work in school, though I think for me it will have to be "real" or serious problems for me to try my hat at being squeaky.


This is a great point! The hardest part of being a manager must be not to reward people for making unreasonable demands and making them often.

BTW, Have you ever written a survey of some of the best ideas your students have for "the ideal organization"?

Kevin Rutkowski

Two comments:
1) I had a friend who worked as a software tester at UHG. He said that there was a lot of pressure to test that the rejection of claims didn't miss any valid rejection but no pressure to ensuring that the valid claims were always paid correctly. This is the same company that once lost a lawsuit for purposely rejecting most valid large claims because they knew that most people don't appeal, especially when they have the pressures of severe medical problems to deal with.

2) In my Art and Science of Negotiations class, we learned that many times you get what you want simply by asking. In addition, recent studies show that the gender gap in pay is partially due to the fact that women ask for higher pay less often then men.

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