We know what we are, but know not what we may be.

~ William Shakespeare ~

10 Ways For Talking Through Complaints

September 25th, 2012 ~ Est. reading time: 2 mins, 27 secs

Talking it over beats screaming hands down.

Talking normally as a way to sort out complaints has a lot going for it. By normally, I don’t mean yelling, screaming, or even pleading. Just good old-fashioned communication.

Plenty of people seem to prefer what I call the train wreck approach; possibly because it’s the only approach they know for talking things through. Yet, despite their passion and determination, such an stance frequently generates resistance.

That is to say, there is a better way. Talking through your complaint congenially enhances your chance of resolving a problem, versus yelling a nose length away from someone’s face.

So that it doesn’t descend into a fruitless talkfest, here are some suggestions to frame your conversation:

  1. Avoid attacking the person because it makes them your enemy.
  2. Focus on the issue and what you’d like done about it.
  3. Be prepared to give a little ground but don’t necessarily say so.
  4. Don’t seek perfection. Seek a happy outcome.
  5. If you aren’t good at talking through problems to resolve a problem get someone who is. At the very least, seek help from a friend if you feel it will help.
  6. There’s never any need to rub another person’s nose in it with blame, even if they did do the wrong thing. To boost your prospects, focus on obtaining your desired result without making the other person lose face.
  7. Generally, avoid losing your temper because, paradoxically, it will weaken your position.  Better to go the other way by actually being kind as you complain. People find this approach to talking through a difficult issue hard to fight.
  8. Ask considered questions and genuinely listen.
  9. Go further if you can and treat the other person well. Quite often, if it’s a customer complaint, the only reason they’re representative is involved is because they drew the short straw. So, be friendly to them. Thank them, praise them for any effort they make, apologize for having to bother them, and genuinely treat them with respect. That way, you might just find yourself a friend on the inside and leave a good impression behind you.
  10. Consider the cost of this issue in terms of time. How long are you prepared to invest in solving this matter?

Most importantly, be politely persistent. If you believe it’s a worthy pursuit, keep talking it through. If not, know when it’s time to shrug your shoulders (literally), laugh about the craziness of the situation, and let it go. Without knowing when to fold, you risk expending excessive energy worthy of more positive pursuits. So, have a limit in mind, before you even take the time.

Will talking through a complaint in a conciliatory way always get the results you want? No. Sometimes people are nasty regardless. For them, no amount of talking over the nuts and bolts of a problem is ever going to turn them around.

Fortunately, however, a lot of folk are on the reasonable end of the spectrum. They will appreciate you making the effort to explain your situation in a non-aggressive way and admire you talking through the matter amicably (despite having a genuine grievance). Many people will even be relieved to discover how good-natured you are.

In a way, this kind of talking it over approach could be renamed, The Gentle Art of Complaining. Practice doing it and you’ll be pleased to find sensible discussion addresses many complaints, long before they descend into anything messy.

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