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Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Monday, November 6, 2000

Two readers,
two gripes,
two results

SOMETHING happened last week -- two things, really -- that will permanently change the way I express discontentment about food, service, products or anything in the future. In fact, I'm still a little traumatized by the whole ordeal.

It had to do with two complaints lodged by two Star-Bulletin readers, who did so in polar-opposite fashion.

The first call came on Thursday, when we published our editorial endorsements for president, U.S. Senate and U.S. House.

The woman, who identified herself as a longtime subscriber, was livid. Her voice shook with anger as she blasted us for backing political newcomer Phil Meyers over incumbent Rep. Neil Abercrombie in the 1st District race.

"You folks are so stupid!" she exclaimed. "I'm canceling my subscription! How do I go about doing that?"

Frankly, she scared me. I rarely get feedback in this manner. Island folks are usually very polite or use humor to diffuse their displeasure.

Even people who disagree vehemently with our editorials or columns mostly want to share their contrary views or merely want to question our sanity.

But they don't scream. Sheesh.

Her eruption was so unnerving that I blurted out what she wanted -- the phone number for our circulation department -- whereby she hung up.

Yep, I'm pretty sure she followed through on her threat.

The second call, mercifully from a different person, came on Friday. This time, a female voice started off by asking, "May I make a comment on something in the newspaper?"

Immediately, my body tensed up. Uh, oh. I braced for another verbal lambasting but the woman, calmly and deliberately, instead said something like this:

"Yesterday I mailed in my absentee ballot after weeks of trying to find out more on the candidates, especially those running for the Board of Education and Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

"I didn't have time to read my Star-Bulletin last night so, when I opened it up just now, I found your general election guide. Oh, I wish I had seen this earlier!

"It is so good and has so much useful information. You know, it would be so much better for people like me who vote absentee if this could come out earlier. Would you be able to do that in the future?"

WHAT a difference in that caller's tone -- and in my reaction to it. I assured her that 1) she had an excellent point, 2) as soon as our conversation was pau, I'd pass along her suggestion to the appropriate parties and 3) we appreciated the feedback.

Now, what if caller number two had lodged her complaint the same way as caller number one? Imagine if she had bellowed: "You folks are so stupid! Why didn't you print that general election guide a long time ago? You're useless! I'm canceling my subscription!"

Yep, if she had done that, my response wouldn't have been so positive. Why alienate the person you're trying to persuade?

That's why, from now on, I'm going to be much nicer when I point out that the soup's not hot enough or the service was too slow or when anything is not quite up to expectations.

As Gladys A. Brandt and Kenneth F. Brown pointed out in their Saturday "View Point" column, there's a Hawaiian proverb that goes, "Gentle yet convincing oratory can bring forth desired results, as the rain stimulates the growth of the lehua blossoms."

In other words, if you want life to be sweet, deliver complaints just as sweetly.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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