Career Advice

How To Complain While Still Being Professional

At any job, issues are bound to come up. From your coworkers to your company policies, not everything can be perfect all the time. So, what exactly should you do when you disagree with a company policy, or need to lodge a formal complaint about your annoying co-worker?

There’s a huge difference between exhibiting radical candor and becoming the office complainer. In order to help employees strike the right balance, Glassdoor spoke with a few career experts to help you resolve your office woes the professional way.

Turn Complaints Into Requests

The first step to take when raising concerns in the work place, according to Amy Van Court, CPCC, PCC, is to talk to your direct supervisor. Despite any past experiences you’ve had bringing feedback to your manager, Van Court notes this is always the best way to start addressing your concerns.

“Start clean. Give your boss an opportunity to surprise you, to advocate for you if necessary,” says Van Court.

But, before actually going in to make your complaint, Van Court suggests taking a moment to consider what you want to happen.

“Turn every complaint you have into a request,” suggest Van Court. “Then you’re creating a path instead of staying stuck in the mud and expecting someone else to get you out.”

Identify the Solution Ahead of Time

Before you walk into your manager’s office, it’s best to go in prepared with solutions. If you walk in with a long list of complaints and no proactive steps to take to solve them, you’ll end up sounding like a complainer.

“If you have concerns, take some time to get clear on what they are and why they upset you — journaling is great for this,” says Laura Weldy, leadership mentor and life coach at The Well Supported Woman. “Taking some time to prepare will allow you to be precise with your concerns and also help you to avoid saying anything too hastily.”

Laura notes she encourages clients who experience this issue to take this practice one step forward and actually identify what their ideal solution to the problem would be. Whether it’s changing the way you communicate with someone, or requesting a change in your schedule, coming to this meeting prepared will help your manager better understand how to help you.

“Your manager may not be able to make it happen, but they will never know what you’re hoping to see happen if you don’t tell them — plus it shows that you’re proactive about problem-solving,” says Weldy.

When to Take a Complaint Above Your Boss

If your manager can’t help with the situation, or nothing gets resolved after your complaint is made, what steps should you take next? Try taking the request to the person’s boss, or to your manager’s supervisor. Then, if the issues continue to be ignored or unresolved, you can go to human resources.

“I have heard of many examples of people feeling they are not treated justly by their boss (or their boss being unreasonable or speaking in nasty tones) and issues with a fellow employee — such as inappropriate behavior, irritation by sitting too close in a cubicle situation or gossip, etc.,” describes Anne Angerman, MSW at Career Matters. “If there are still issues, I would recommend consulting with an employment attorney and learning if the grievances are valid. Also, it depends what the issues are:  Are they personal, such as age discrimination? Or is it an issue with a boss or another employee? Or treatment by another employee?”

Make an Agreement With Your Boss

If you want to ensure your complaint gets the attention you feel it deserves, the best way to keep this conversation professional and between you and your manager is to come to an agreement on how to best handle the situation.

“When you approach your boss with your request, ask him/her if they will agree to look at it and get back to you,” advises Van Court. “Agreements are far better than expectations because they represent a dialogue, where expectations are just something we place on someone whether they want it or not.”

Van Court notes that, if your boss agrees to look into your request, make sure you ask for a date that you can both agree to that the issue can be resolved by. But, if it’s a more serious issue, such as sexual harassment or illegal actions, you will want to have this resolved within a shorter time period, if not immediately.

Don’t Be Afraid to Issue a Complaint — You’ve Got This!

Though making a complaint at work can feel intimidating, approaching the issue in a professional manner will help you reach a resolution.

“I think that the biggest difference between a complaint and constructive feedback is that constructive feedback is solution-oriented,” says Weldy. “Everybody needs to vent now and then, but make sure that the person you’re complaining to is the right person — let small frustrations about scheduling, slightly annoying coworkers or not-so-fun tasks out during conversations with friends and family, not your boss. If you have a bigger problem to address, don’t be shy about addressing it with your manager — you’re both here to make your team better!”

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