Friday, May 17, 2013

7 Tips on How to Complain Effectively

Every once in awhile, we all have to complain, offer a suggestion, or disagree.  To communicate your perspective effectively, here are some tips.  I hope you find them helpful.

1)  Be nice.

First and foremost, no matter how angry, sad, or annoyed you feel, be nice.  There's no need for yelling, calling people names, or being overly emotional.  Sure, I get that at times you might sound exasperated a little, or sigh, but no need to roll your eyes or make it worse.  The nicer you are about it, the more the other person feels bad.  If you are really horrible about it, they think to themselves, "While I understand she is upset, she didn't have to go off.  If she takes it out on me and I just work here, why should I try to help her?  What a jerk!"  I understand that perspective is not fair, but most people will alter their reaction to you based on how you treat them, whether right or wrong.  It's human nature.

2) Talk to the right person.

As much as possible, find out who the right person to speak to is - a manager, supervisor, HR, etc.  If they are not available, either get some contact information or without going into too much detail, mention why you would like to speak to them.

3) Open with a compliment or praise.

State something you like about the person, business, or organization.  Express your loyalty, enthusiasm, or any positive aspect you can think of even if you have to reach for it.  This will help smooth the communication that will follow.

4) Couch your complaint with either surprise, bewilderment, or confusion.

Start going into your "bad news" by pointing out the anomaly, atypical behavior, or how you may have misunderstood so they aren't put in a position to be defensive and lose face.  This also lets them know you realize these things do happen because we all make mistakes or business just involves a lot of cooks in the kitchen.

5)  State your actual complaint.

When you state your complaint or perspective, be calm about it.  Give a business reason, a valid point, or point out nicely to them why it's in their best interest to at least hear you out.  Don't complain about something just because you want your way or think things are unfair.  Unfortunately, life is not always fair.  Frame the situation so everyone wins or at least you are heard and put on the record why you are complaining in case things get worse.

6) Offer a suggestion, what you hope to happen, three different avenues.

The point here is to help them help you out.  Most often people silently wonder, "What do you want me to do about it?"  This can be because they wonder why you are telling them - are you just complaining, perhaps you think they are the right person because someone else told you they were when they are not, or do you want advice?  Whatever feedback you provide, also have a good reason that's actually helpful, makes sense, and is fair to everyone.  Sometimes if you don't offer a suggestion until they speak first, whatever they suggest may be better than what you were hoping for, but always go in with an idea of what you want.

7) If needed, circle back.

If the situation is a really big deal and take times to fix, discuss touching base again in a 2 weeks or a month, etc.   At the very least, the next time you see them, thank them for listening to you and helping you.

***New “rule” - when you ask me a question for anonymous advice and I answer it, could you write an anonymous comment so I know you read the post?  You can just write “Thx!” or something!  :)

As always, I usually tweet any new posts I have. And anyone can email me questions and I respond only via this blog, not to your personal address. It usually takes me 3-4 days to answer.

I also write over at under Hollywood Executive Assistant.


  1. I'm a new reader and I must say I have truly enjoyed reading your posts. I'm very impressed that you have already answered all my administrative questions just by searching for the answer on this blog. Well done and I admire you.-Mal

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AssistantMay 19, 2013 at 1:13 AM


      Welcome to the blog! Thank you for the encouragement! Feel free to ask an anonymous question too if you'd like! It's nice to hear from readers!