How easy do you find it to complain?
(Three quick steps to becoming assertive.)
Complaining, it seems, is something the British are not very good at. We will often stoically put up with poor service and shoddy goods rather than make a fuss. Assertive over a moan every time.
Why should this be so? My suspicions are that this is because by and large we fundamentally dislike confrontation. We just don’t think it’s worth the distress and heartache that’s likely to be involved. A typical reaction is to put up with whatever is going on at the time, avoid conflict, and then later on complain to anyone and everyone who will listen about the injustice of it all.
But complaining successfully is a bit of an art. It is about being assertive, rather than aggressive. It is also about knowing what you want to achieve by making a complaint. It seems to me that if complaining is not done with some skill and charm, you are often seen as someone who is a whinger and just a nuisance, rather than someone with a legitimate problem that needs sorting out.
To make an effective complaint, there is a simple formula to apply.
It consists following three basic steps. These need to be worked out in advance before you pitch in and actually make your complaint.
- Describe what the problem is as accurately as you can. You need to focus on what actually happened, rather than your impressions. You need to describe what happened as accurately as you can.
‘The report did not arrive on time’ rather than… ‘Can’t I trust you to do anything?’
The reason for describing the facts is that, provided they are correct, there can be no argument. This means that any possible rows or disagreements of the kind that might ensue if you delivered an emotional opinion can be avoided, which usually personal insults.
You might think that emphasis and outrage will railroad someone into taking action, but it usually has quite the opposite effect. And in many cases, the individual receiving the brunt of your feelings is usually not the person responsible for causing the problem.
- Express how you feel about the problem. This means describing the emotional effect it is having on you, rather than giving vent to your emotions. It’s very much the case of saying in a quiet and modulated tone,
‘I feel really disappointed and thoroughly let down, especially as you agreed to the deadline last week.’
This can be quite difficult to do, especially if you are feeling very angry and want to vent your frustration.
Feeling anger and annoyance are valid feelings in the circumstances. What is not valid or acceptable, if you want to get the situation rectified, is to use abusive or explosive language, to make rude or disparaging comments, or to strike an attitude of resigned martyrdom.
- Specify what you would like to happen in order to resolve the situation. There’s no point complaining if you don’t know how you would like the problem resolved. This means working out what you would like to happen next and how you would the problem rectified.
‘I would like your assurance that in future you will take deadlines seriously and allow yourself enough time to complete a report well before it’s needed.’
Because you are focusing on what needs to be done in an assertive manner, rather than your negative feelings, it is unlikely that any untoward emotion will be aroused in the person on the receiving end of your message. This makes it far more likely that he or she will listen to what you have to say and ultimately help you resolve the problem.
So take the bull by the horns and try out these three steps next time you want to make a complaint, but feel you lack the courage. You will be surprised how a reasonable approach gets you really positive results and allows everyone involved to end up feeling good, or at least OK.
I believe that if you can assert yourself by making your case calmly and persuasively, you will find it much easier to make a complaint. You will also be more likely avoid confrontation and succeed in getting things resolved pleasantly.