The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism convention broke into several elective breakout sessions during lunch Monday, Dec. 4, and the “Kvetch 101” discussion proved to be the most popular in the huge, segmented ballroom at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta.
“Kvetch 101” expanded to four tables, perhaps because of the comedic title, perhaps because Jews have a reputation for knowing how to launch a grievance and for not being able to let go of one.
The session’s presenter was Amy Fish, who has served as an ombudsman in the health care industry and in her current job as the chief complaint officer at Concordia University in Montreal.
Fish, whose book “The Art of Complaining Effectively” was published in 2013, did indeed deliver. Her formula for handling complaints, although targeted to synagogue staffers and officers at the USCJ meeting, can be applied in just about any scenario. And, yes, she was concurrently funny and honest.
Among Fish’s alphabetical list of tips:
- Accept the complaint. Even when someone approaches at the wrong time (as when Fish was sitting shiva), say, “I want to give you the attention you need, but I will have to call you later in the week.”
- Break in half the receiving and the resolving. Ask questions to get specifics and show that you are listening. “How many peanut candies (potentially allergic) were put out, would you guess?”
- Check into what happened before making excuses.
- Direct. Finding bacon in the shul refrigerator can go viral. Is there indeed an explanation?
- Excuse. Don’t forget to say, “I’m sorry,” even if you’re too busy making explanations.
- Feel free to pass along. If two congregants get into a tiff about seats, suggest that they talk to each other first to work it out.
“Sometimes when people are abusive, you have to break the communication: ‘I’m trying to help you, but you are yelling at me’ or ‘You are using offensive language, and I am going to disconnect this call. Click,’” she said.
“After all,” she added, “this isn’t Kiddush-gate. Sometimes it’s just about eggs.”
Alan Smirin, the president of Congregation B’nai Torah in Sandy Springs, appreciated the session, which mirrored his experience in retailing. “I am already doing many of these things in dealing with the public and now congregants, which are our customers. Nine-tenths of what congregants complain about is legitimate and can be addressed. They have points that are well made.
“On the other hand, we hear ‘Too little mayonnaise in the tuna’ or ‘How come we ran out of cookies?’ Someone noticed the glue was not properly applied around the front-door mezuzah, and, hey, she was right. We fixed it.”