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What is the best COMPLAINT you've ever received?

I’m sure there are more complaints that I have received; however below are two that impacted me significantly. At the time, I was negatively affected, but with reflection and support, I realised that these complaints were indeed, compliments.


Complaint One:

Day two of a three-day retreat in the UK with an organisations' top 120 leaders. I was the flown-in guest, co-facilitator with the CEO:

Participant: “I am not happy.”

CEO: “That’s not good; what is concerning you?”

Participant: “This retreat is going too well; you and Shirley must be manipulating something?”


Complaint Two:

Many years ago, walking into the tea room and overhearing two colleagues:

Colleague One: “How come Shirley gets such good results with her clients? She’s not that good?”

Colleague Two: “I know; I think it’s because they really like her.”


It is this second complaint (well, a comment really) that affected me for many years because I had been fighting the “Shirley is not smart” syndrome for all that time.



I found school challenging (yep, that’s me in the picture!). I had an undiagnosed hearing problem, and by the time I got to high school, I was behind in the basics. Additionally, my parents had a work ethic rather than an education ethic and were quite happy for me to finish up in year 10 to pursue paid employment.


Sprint forward, and I’m becoming successful in my career while finding every possible reason to hide the fact that I didn’t have a tertiary degree. I made up for it by being the hardest working, most reliable and ‘friendly’ person in the room. I listened and watched what others did and eventually learned that facilitating the truly smart people was the key to my success. This served me well, except when something triggered me, like the overheard comment quoted above.


For some people, these triggers could be compared to Imposter Syndrome – however, for me, it still went deeper because I really couldn’t prove I was smart. After all, I didn’t have a degree as evidence.


In repeated mentoring sessions, I brought this up as a blocker to my career advancing and eventually was told to get over myself because I did actually have a degree. It had the initials QBE.

“Qualified by Experience”.

We then recalled those moments where work completed with clients brought success – not for me, but them.


From then on, I began to collect a new set of information that confirmed this QBE, and my confidence shifted to a new level.


In addition to this, I was wonderfully supported by my employer to complete Post Graduate studies, and eventually ‘got that piece of paper!’


Imposter Syndrome is real – The Australian Human Resources Institute estimates that “70 per cent of the population have either felt ill-equipped or have struggled to internalise their own success.”

Brave actions you can take:


Whether you are just starting your career, mid-way or well into it, don’t ever stop the work of being ‘qualified by experience’.

  • Be conscious of the environments you get to participate in and the contributions of value you bring. Be mindful of what you have learned and write them down somewhere to be used for your performance review or when you next update your CV or LinkedIn profile.

  • Be honest with yourself about your skills and make sure you stay ‘relevant’ in language, technologies and, most importantly, know what is no longer wanted or needed. Sometimes we have to ‘retire’ a skill or attribute if it’s no longer needed or valued).

Have you had moments where you received a ‘backhanded compliment’?

  • Find a coach or mentor to reframe this, and make sure you include your reframed value onto your LinkedIn page, your next performance review and your CV.

Have you had moments when you received feedback directly or indirectly that caused you to question your value?

  • If indirectly, see above.

  • If direct, work with the person who provided or facilitated the feedback to understand what the specific requirements for change are and partner together to move forward.

Have you had to deal with a complaint that set you back in your confidence?

  • This is where you need to get Brave and own the situation. In some cases, you may be required to participate in a complaints process; in others, it may be the beginning of an uncomfortable time of honesty and humility. You may need to seek restitution or restoration of the situation. Please don’t do this alone. Seek out your Peer Support Program for psychological support, and request a colleague to support you in taking the first steps of change.

  • If your organisation offers this, getting an external coach or mentor often allows you to have a confidential and impartial person to provide additional feedback and skills-based support.


For further reading, I found this book by Andrea Clarke really useful. Andrea speaks about the need to adapt faster than you ever have before.

"The future of work is about talent, not technology. If we want to outrun the algorithm to stay secure in the future of work, we need to invest in our own talent in ways we may not have considered."



All the best, until next time.

Shirley