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How to Complain at Work (and Actually Get What You Want)

In the daily hustle of the workday, petty annoyances and inconveniences are par for the course. And often, when we counter those stressors, we handle them by complaining to anyone willing to listen.

But complaining is complicated: Sure, it can be a way of expressing frustration and eliciting advice from others. On the flipside, it can be destructive to workplace morale and your reputation. When you complain on a regular basis, those in earshot may question your trustworthiness, assuming that if you’re gabbing about some colleagues, you’re probably talking behind their backs, as well. Complaining also impacts the office culture as a whole, discouraging collaboration and contributing to the development of office cliques.

Plus, while venting may provide temporary emotional relief, studies have shown that complaining doesn’t actually make you feel better in the long run. It’s an unproductive vehicle for voicing your concerns that provides an illusion that you’re fixing the problem but actually ends up generating even more anger and hostility.

So, how can you express your frustrations in a more effective way—one that leads to an actual solution and doesn’t tarnish your image? Here are a few alternatives to venting that can help you get to the root of the issue.

1. Take a Breather

Whether it stems from your cubemate’s pen-tapping habit or a client’s tendency to never return your calls, most of us are familiar with the blood-boiling sensation that arises when we’re annoyed. But when you feel this coming on in the office, recognize it, acknowledge it, and pause before any angry words begin to flow.

When it comes to venting, timing is everything. You have to confront issues when the right people and resources are available to actually fix them. This means resisting the urge to go off the moment something upsets you, but instead, to reconsider the situation after you’ve had a chance to cool down and gain a bit of perspective.

For example, it probably won’t play out in your favor to lash out about your colleague’s knack for forgetting to make copies of key paperwork minutes before a high-stakes client meeting. Instead, use that energy to write down a list of the issues concerning you, then put time on the calendar to address the topic with that person once the meeting is over and your volatile emotions have passed.

2. Make it About Problems, Not People

If you’re ultimately looking to resolve your workplace complaints rather than just go on a venting binge (which hopefully is the case), it’s much more constructive to reference specific behaviors and situations that irk you, rather than make sweeping accusations.

For example, rather than saying “Steven, you’re always so rude to the junior staff,” a better approach would be to pinpoint a recent, concrete example, and then frame it in the perspective of how it makes you feel. So, you could say, “Steven, when you didn’t say hello to the junior staff at the company dinner, I felt disappointed.”

By focusing on a specific situation, you can work toward a resolution to that issue—rather than simply putting the other person on the defensive with a broad accusation.

3. Focus on the Positive; Focus on Solutions

A little empathy goes a long way to turn complaints into resolutions, so as difficult as it may be, try making the shift from assuming that others have malicious intent to giving them the benefit of the doubt.

For example, if you have a colleague who’s surely pounding on her keyboard for the sole purpose of annoying you, try saying, “Hey, I know you probably don’t realize how loudly you type, but the office echoes and the noise is making it tough for me to concentrate.” By phrasing it this way, you’re asserting your concerns while softening any unnecessary confrontation.

Along the same lines, try framing the situation in a positive light. For example, you might say, “Sitting near each other has made it easier to work together on projects, like the email campaign we rocked last month, but a couple of my prospects are complaining that they can’t hear me on the phone over the background noise.”

Most importantly, come prepared with ideas in hand for how to improve the situation or achieve a compromise, such as, “I’ll start giving you a heads up before I jump on an important call so we can make sure we’re on the same page.” Your colleagues will appreciate that you’re willing to help find a solution rather than just point out the problems.

Workplace annoyances have always been and always will be a fact of life. By learning how to address them constructively, you’ll reduce the anger and contribute to a healthier workplace environment.

 

// This article originally appeared on TheMuse.com

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Master your psychology with therapeutic insights for your life, relationships, & career