Although in IT jobs, many of us frequently are on the receiving end of complaints, sometimes we’re the ones who need to complain. Perhaps there’s a problem with a server or some networking gear or perhaps there’s a problem with a co-worker. Regardless, there are right ways and wrong ways to complain. Here are some important keys to complaining successfully:

Be informed before you complain.

Before you complain, make sure to do your homework. Research the nature of the problem. Try to uncover any history or mitigating factors. Consider whether the problem is worth using some of your credibility, because complaining frequently can cause you to become known as a whiner and damage your credibility.

Begin with the end in mind.

This is the wisdom of Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. What is your desired outcome? If your desired outcome is a change in policy or a refund or some type of adjustment, it probably doesn’t behoove you to come in with both guns blazing. Be civil if you want a civilized outcome.

Don’t be jerk when you complain.

To quote Meryl Runion’s book Power Phrases, “Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t be mean when you say it.” It’s never necessary to engage in name-calling and value judgments. Name-calling, mud-slinging politicians set examples for how not to do things. Use your emotional intelligence skills. Remember that you’re dealing with a fellow human being who probably had nothing personally to do with the problem. Keep it civil, no matter how angry or frustrated you are. Being a jerk may give you a short-term gain. It will undermine your long-term success.

Ask questions instead of making demands as you complain.

Open ended questions are a great way to gain a better understanding of a situation, as opposed to closed ended yes or no questions. Stick to the issue (remember the Gricean maxim of relation). Avoid sarcastic or manipulative questions. Making demands usually just results in the other person digging in their heels and throwing up roadblocks. My favorite question to ask a customer service rep is “What would you do if you were in my position?”

When you complain, be prepared with a solution.

Whether you’re complaining to a customer service representative or your boss, be prepared with your ideal solution. You might even say something like, “Ideally, this is what I’d like to see happen.” and then offer a reasonable solution, one which you would find reasonable if you were the person receiving the complaint.

Will these techniques work all the time? Will they always lead to the outcome you want? Of course not. Just as in life, there are no guarantees. These techniques, however, are based on how civilized people interact with each other and, more often than not, they’ll produce an acceptable outcome.

There is an art to complaining effectively. Yelling and screaming, name-calling, and making value judgments is bullying and never works on a long-term basis. Not only that, it’s bad for your own health and well-being. A calm and courteous approach is much less stressful and will usually yield more positive results.

For More Ideas on How to Improve Communication and Customer Service Skills

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