The art of complaining has changed significantly over the years. In the old days, you’d begrudgingly approach a manager, bellyache to your spouse, or write a tersely worded letter. But today’s society is immediate, with short attention spans and little patience—not to mention the frightening beast of social media, which has given disgruntled complainers (of which there are many) a worldwide platform to air their grievances.
That’s not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t complain. There are times when a well-timed complaint can get you the restitution you deserve.
But there’s a smart way to do it, and a less effective way. For one, make sure you actually have something to complain about. We all know the guy who has something negative to say about every service, or the woman who finds the cloud behind every silver lining. You don’t want to be that person.
"Ask yourself: What do I want from this? Is it worth my time and effort? What good reasons does the other side have to address my complaint?” says Linda Swindling, author of Stop Complainers and Energy Drainers: How to Negotiate Work Drama to Get More Done.
You also want to find out if you have any shared interests in getting the issue resolved. If so, work them to your advantage, Swindling says.
Here’s a few more tips on how to master the art of complaint:
· Ask for help. That’s the best place to start, according to Randi Busse, author of Turning Rants into Raves. An example: "I’m hoping you can help me. My name is John, and here’s what happened. How can we resolve this?”
· Go to the source. Don’t waste timecomplainingto someone who can’t do anything about it says communications expert Marilyn Suttle, author of Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan. Start by asking, "Do you have the authority to … (upgrade my seat, make an exception to the company’s return policy …).” Ask to talk to someone who has the authority to say yes.
· If you’re speaking directly with a person, appeal to them as a person, not as a representative of the company with whom you hold a grudge, says Busse. Suttle notes that you can be upfront with your anger, but make sure the person you’re talking to knows that it’s nothing personal against them. "When you’re too angry to hide it—don’t. Instead, be upfront about it. Say something like, ‘I’m really upset right now, and it has nothing to do with you personally.’” You’ll be more likely to get support rather than defensiveness from your service provider. A defensive service provider won’t be as helpful to you. Every action you take creates a reaction – so choose actions that will create an ally not an enemy.
· If you want someone to listen to your complaint and care to fix it, make it easy for them to want to help you, Suttle says. Realize that it’s a human being you’re talking to. Humans respond well to rapport building communication. Acknowledge how things are from their point of view. Say something like this: "I imagine it’s not easy having to dealcomplainingcustomers all day.”
· Haters gonna hate, so you’ve got to shake it off. "The song’s got it right,” Suttle says. "Remember, service providers don’t feel good about solving problems for people that make their lives miserable. Hating on service providers by demanding, name calling and threatening to write a negative online review may make you feel powerful in the moment, but the stronger your reaction, the less credible you’ll be.”
· Stick to the facts, Swindling suggests. Don’t go off on a tangent about anything that’s not related to your complaint, and don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Stay the course with accurate, tangible information.
· Be smart on social media. According to Butte, there may be times when you want to take your case to Twitter—if you can’t reach the company, are being ignored, or feel compelled to warn others about a bad situation, for example—but make sure you use social media purposefully. "Instead of bashing, ask a pointed question, be clear and concise about the complaint and your desire to have it resolved,” Suttle says. "Whenever company’s see a 1-star online review, they click on that person’s handle to see their other reviews. If they have ten reviews that are all one star, it means they really aren’t looking for a solution to a problem, they’re just griping. Know what you want and ask for it.”