More Tips on How to Voice a Complaint

Business-complaintI’ve been thinking about how to get a legitimate complaint heard at work, in a way that has an impact. I wrote about how to voice a complaint here and here.

It matters who you complain to and the words you choose. Base your argument on solid facts. But you also want to choose your emotions and tone of voice. If you feel driven by an issue because of personal values – that’s important and there’s no reason you shouldn’t express your passion. But tone down the anger.

Here are more tips on how to voice a complaint at work, from Professor Johny Garner in a Harvard Business Review blog post (“How to Communicate Dissent at Work,” February 4, 2013).

1. Choose Your Tone of Voice and Emotions. Dissent usually arises from an emotional place. Most of us don’t complain unless we feel strongly about an issue. Nonetheless, emotional venting — however honest or well-intentioned — is rarely the best way to share your thoughts.

Supervisors and coworkers are more likely to lend you their ears when you communicate in a calm, rational manner. Use direct, factual appeals to bolster your position. Include supporting information that demonstrates critical thinking and analysis to stay within the bounds of rational behavior.

Sometimes, however, adding a touch of emotion to your presentation may work in your favor — particularly if you reference the values under which your organization operates. Few people will challenge these organizational aims, thus making your dissent more persuasive and less controversial.

2. Choose Calm. While it may be tempting to employ threats, aggressive demands or ultimatums, these approaches usually backfire and are considered inappropriate in a professional environment. Remember: Every employee is replaceable. Threaten to quit, and you may get your wish.

Even if pressure tactics prove successful, your relationships will suffer, hampering your future happiness and success. And if you’re the one who backs down from a standoff, you’ll lose credibility.

When to Dissent?

Dissent can be risky because some people feel threatened when an employee questions a policy or practice. But you should never accept something because “it’s the way we’ve always done it” or your manager says it’s the only way.

Author Garner explains there’s a threshold — somewhere between mildly annoying and clearly illegal or dangerous — where you need to say something about the status quo. This juncture will be different for everyone, based on personality, relationships and organizational climate.

In my work coaching executives, I hear a lot of complaints. That gives us an opportunity to sort through the ones that are worth going to battle for and those that are best left alone.

Think critically about your workplace experiences. Has someone or something crossed this threshold? If so, use the tips presented here and here to speak up constructively.


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