The Anxiety of Making Complaints

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • How many times have you been given sub-standard food in a restaurant, or a bad room in a hotel, or had shabby service in a shop? These are just some examples to get you thinking about the number of times you feel you should have said something but you didn't. The issue here is assertiveness, but even fairly confident people can become nervous when it comes to making a perfectly legitimate complaint. Like all skills, the more you practice the easier it becomes. The dilemma for many people is that this is one skill they'd prefer not to practice. They don't want to be put in a situation where making complaints is commonplace.

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    I suppose we've all avoided complaining. I know I have and I can rationalize the reasons why. Maybe it's because it's been a difficult day and I can do without the extra hassle? Maybe I feel sympathy for the young waitress who's flustered and hurried and gets the order wrong. But there are also times when making a complaint is the right thing to do and at times like this it can be useful to have your technique at hand.


    A complaint should embrace the following:


    -         a clear statement about the problem and it's consequences.

    -         a clear indication that you are asking the person to do something about it.

    -         an unemotional, factual, non-aggressive tone.

    -         a willingness to see the situation through to its conclusion.


    If you're nervous about complaining there's a chance you may over-compensate and go into blaming mode. The problem with this is that it is likely to provoke the person into a state of stubborn resistance or counter-attack. Always keep your objective in mind and never tip into aggression as it gives the other person the upper hand.


    A personal example: several years ago my family and I took a vacation where free airport parking was advertised as part of the deal. This was an attractive offer as the cost of parking for two weeks was normally quite high. When we returned, the car-park would not let us leave until I paid the full amount. It was late, we'd traveled a long way and the agent I'd booked the vacation with was closed - so I paid. Next day, I went to the agent explained the problem and the fact I'd had to pay, reminded them of their commitment and asked for a refund. I was surprised at their ambivalence over the issue and the fact that memories about their own offer appeared to have faded.


    I was left standing at the counter while new customers were given priority. This went on for several minutes. I was patient, but determined not to be fobbed off or bullied out of my rights. Eventually I had to fall back on basic assertion techniques. These are often to do with finding out why others are acting the way they are. I can't recall my exact questions but they would have been along the lines of: ‘Why are you ignoring me?'; ‘What do you want to do about this?'; ‘How do you feel about putting me in this kind of situation?' Fortunately the situation was resolved soon afterwards. I can't pretend it was easy, or comfortable, but it was right and I'd do it again.


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    If you feel anxious about making a complaint it can be worth rehearsing the technique at home. Any example will do (e.g. a cold meal, the time you've been waiting) and say the words out loud so you know what you sound like. The strange thing about assertiveness is that people feel the greatest difficulty and most anxiety when they when they are asking for something for themselves. Yet, without some level of assertion, your self-esteem and confidence are likely to suffer as a result of being trampled on.


Published On: August 23, 2011