"The squeaky wheel gets the oil." You have probably heard this popular American idiom. It is used to convey the idea that the most noticeable (or loudest) people with problems are the ones most likely to get attention. Do you believe the cliche is true? "Squeaky wheels" may, indeed, get their "oil" but not all people who speak out do so with good reasoning and good nature.
Masters of statistics N.S. Sreenivasan and V. Narayana, (Continual Improvement Process, 2008) think the idiom is a fallacy. They contend problems will not necessarily "out" themselves when people constantly complain. Furthermore, they believe a "squeaky wheel" can be detrimental to work during problem formation analysis, interpretation and action in a continual improvement process. Their research is based the following:
"This fallacy operates on the principle that (the) squeaky wheel gets the grease. If something is wrong with a conclusion it will 'squeak.' If we do not hear any complaints from the shop, one can assure that the change adopted is OK. In experimental work, this fallacy arises when decisions are based on the absence of contrary evidence rather than on the presence of supporting evidence...The cure for this fallacy lies in reaching conclusions based on the presence of positive supporting evidence rather than lack of contrary evidence."
In other words, silencing a "squeak" does not always equate to solving a problem because the "oil" may mask the real deficiency. Unless evidence proves the "oil" will effectively fix the machine, the potential for more dangerous problems persists.
So, according to this view, the importance of "oiling" a person's demands requires positive proof that his loud vocalizations support a logical conclusion. Without good evidence to support his resonant, wagging tongue, his pleas are hollow and aimless. When others involved in the decision-making process sit quietly or offer subdued resistance and just "go along" with the breeze, they enable a "squeaky wheel" to acquire his precious "oil." The oil, at best, may offer a temporary solution.
People Should "Squeak" When "Squeaking" Helps Solve Real Problems
Psychologists agree that complaining is necessary when people find a need to express fair and legitimate dissatisfaction. Wise people use well-supported complaints with the goal of attaining a meaningful resolution or remedy.
On the other hand, people whine their dissatisfaction over trivial matters, not worthy of special attention. This whining is primarily venting, and venting stems from the wrong motivation for speaking out. As for the value of venting, Brad Bushman, Ph.D. and Iowa State University psychologist, says...
"'Expressing anger actually increases aggression,' says Bushman. He and his colleagues asked subjects to pen an essay, then inspired their ire by handing it back with a brutal critique. Next, the essay writers were asked to deliver noise bursts to either the person who'd insulted their paper or an innocent bystander. Subjects could decide how long and loud the annoying sounds would be.
"Miffed participants who hit a punching bag before administering the sounds were twice as cruel in their choice of noise length and volume as those who just sat quietly before performing the task. Furthermore, 'they were aggressive toward both types of people,' said Bushman, .and that's scary.'"
Instead of trying to simmer down, says Bushman, angry people should just turn off the heat altogether. For example, they should count to 10--or 100, if need be--and the anger will pass.
(Holly Parker, "Nonviolent Venting," Psychology Today, July 01 1999)
Besides, no one wants to be known as a chronic whiner -- a person who continually complains about every little discomfort. Yet, it may surprise to know that an average person is said to complain nearly 15-30 times a day! This leads to the belief that we are born with a large capacity to groan, growl, and grumble.
Michael Cunningham, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Louisville, believes that humans' taste for complaining probably evolved from our ancestors' way of crying out a warning when something threatened the tribe. "We mammals are a squealing species. We talk about things that bother us as a way of getting help or seeking a posse to mount a counterattack," says Cunningham.
(Hagar Scher, "Do You Complain Too Much? Or Not Enough? WebMD Feature
from Good Housekeeping" Magazine)
Yes, we are all guilty of complaining and much of it is probably whining. It is possible that some of us never become aware of how abrasive whining can be. And, oh yes, it also makes bitchy people feel good to complain.
Maybe if more humans knew why they feel the need to "squeak," these folks would think before venting. Will Bowen, author of A Complaint Free World, lists five main reasons why people complain:
- To start a conversation or establish camaraderie: People use complaining as a way to inspire rapport. There is a basic desire in human beings to connect with one another.
- To avoid taking action by shirking responsibility: How often have we come across the person who comes to you and complains about a problem; and no sooner you suggest a solution to their problem, they find fault with your suggestion and complain about that too! Their grumble then is “There are too many problems and no solutions!” Which translates as “Whatever I do is not going to make a difference, so I won’t try.”
- To brag about their superiority: Examples: “I hate it when people don’t use their signal blinkers when driving!” “People don’t drive the way I think they should.” Complaints here are cries of superiority, implying that the complainer knows better than others do. In a way, the braggers here are saying that they have high standards that are not being met by other people.
- To control others: Complaining is also used as a way to incite others to switch loyalties. Example: "Don’t listen to him. His ideas are lame." You find it in corporate life. You find it in politics. The idea is to get your listener to switch his point of view, control him and build clout by focusing on the ‘assumed’ wrongdoings of an opponent.
- To pre-excuse poor performance, behavior or inaction: Robin Kowalski of the Department of Psychology, Western Carolina University, says that many complaints are uttered for self-presentational motives. For example, complaining about the traffic as you enter the office is a way to justify your tardiness.
(Maya Vokes-Didier, "Why Do Some People Complain About Everything," http://www.helium.com/items/1726820-psychology-of-complaining-reasons-why-people-complain, January 30 2010)
Do Be a "Wheel" With a Legitimate "Squeak" But Don't Be a Painful "Squeal"
Barbara Held, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Bowdoin College, confirms that constructive complaining is an essential life skill. Her guidelines: Be up-front about your need to complain (rather than try to pretend you're just having a regular conversation), limit your "gripe" time, and don't act as though your complaints trump everyone else's. Above all, select an appropriate listener.
Above all, have good reason to believe your "squeaky wheel" is warranted and logically addresses a solution to what you perceive is wrong. Egotistical moaners and naggers care little about anything other than self pity. Complaining for the sake of complaining is the sure sign of a whiner. "Howling at the moon" or what I affectionately call "Barking up a dead dog's ass" is silly, futile behavior that befits irritating Drama Queens and Drama Kings.
Unhealthy complainers bellyache to anyone who crosses their path and seem oblivious to picking up on people's cues that they've had their fill of negativity. "Chronic complainers get stuck in victim mode, and that irritates the people around them," says Michael Cunningham, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Louisville.
And, these whiner types love to talk but rarely listen. "They'll take hours of your time telling you their problems-then they reject your help and don't take one piece of advice you give them," says Kowalski.
Venters are annoying at best, depressing at worst. They spread negativity and give "speaking out" a bad name. You can see them on Facebook attempting to drum up sympathy for every little personal discomfort. They are the "help me, help me, help me" people and the "look at my pitiful situation" people and the "constant squeaky wheel" people. If you choose to keep "oiling" them with the lubricant of pity, you can be assured they will drain your reserves.
Speaking of Facebook, here are some examples of what I consider comments that are major indicators of whiners:
"I am sick of all the haters. They are destroying my life."
"After you hurt me, I am completely done. I don't need aggravation in my life."
"It's already been a stressful day and it's only 9:00 A.M."
"I can't sleep. Tomorrow is going to be such a bitch."
"God help me. I just feel something is going to go wrong."
"Home alone and bored."
"Wake up in the morning only to be in a bad mood...I hate annoying people. Get it together and quit trying to be all up in 'mines.'"
"My day off and I have to do some running -- this sucks."
"I'm over my past I'm over these fake ass people. I'm over all the bullshit I've been through. Nobody ever should be trusted."
"People can deal with me. This bitch is the shit. Know it and shut up."
Youtube "Whiners" from Saturday Night Live