Consumer, Complainer, or Contributor?

Consumer, Complainer, or Contributor?

David W. Hegg

In a recent Forbes article, Tim Maurer described 3 kinds of people. He used the labels in reference to “our posture toward learning how to be better professionals.” I want to broaden the horizon and suggest every organization, team, church, and family has people who fit these categories, and everyone knows who they are.

We all understand those who are primarily consumers. They honestly believe the organization, and everyone in it, exists for them. They see the organization as useful for their personal satisfaction and development but have no partnering connection with the organizational mission. Consequently, they are never really part of the community, and that’s okay with them. Most consumers, while willing to offer suggestions, seldom become complainers. After all, if and when their consumer desires are not met, they will simply go somewhere that better caters to their needs and wants.

But complainers see themselves as more than mere consumers. Complainers go one step beyond believing the organization exists for them. They actually think the organization belongs to them. Consequently, they see it as their right, even their duty, to point out everything that is wrong, or needs to be changed, or added.

Complainers have a heightened sense of their own importance, since they fell like owners. They want to be taken seriously by leadership and seen as real contributors. By complaining, they feel they are bringing great value to the group. But, actually the opposite is true. Complainers are loud in their complaining, but seldom voice any substantive solutions. They are good at tearing down but dismal at building up.

Unlike consumers who often will slip away quietly, complainers leave with an archive of their disappointments and are ready to share them with any interested party. Complainers are desperate to find someone who will agree with their views. And, you may have noticed, if no one else will listen, complainers naturally gravitate to social media.

What every successful organization wants are contributors. Contributors view the organization as a community of like-minded people whose mission is essential, and more important than any individual. Contributors are all in. They are self-sacrificing, hard-working, humble-minded, and mission-driven. If they see a problem, they get all the facts and put together a well-thought-out solution because their goal is the health of the enterprise and not personal recognition.

Contributors also recognize the value of their peers. They see the community as necessary to the accomplishment of the mission, and work diligently to prize collaboration over competition, communication over suspicion, and integrity above all.

Even as I write this I know each of us embody all three postures at times. But I am most interested in determining our natural default mode. Are you a consumer who believes the world is obligated to meet your needs, look after your feelings, and make sure you’re always happy? If so, please hear this: You’re missing out on the great privilege of accomplishing with others what you could never accomplish alone. It’s called team, and it means shifting your worldview from selfish individualism to the camaraderie that comes from winning together.

Are you a complainer who finds purpose and satisfaction in pointing out everything that irks you or fails to meet your standards? Are you the one who sees what everyone else is doing wrong? If this is your default, or even a posture you inhabit frequently, please hear this: You’re a pain to be around. You’re not helpful, and you’re certainly not going to help the rest of us accomplish the mission. You don’t bring value if all you do is complain. Real value comes when you suggest valuable solutions to the problems you see. By so doing, you become valuable to the team.

And, if you’re a contributor … thank you! Thanks for pursuing life and work and relationships with a positive, helpful, and encouraging attitude. Thanks for helping make others successful. And most of all, thanks for showing the rest of us there is more to life than consuming and complaining. After all, we’re in this together.