3 Tips for Complaining Successfully

Here’s how you can complain effectively and get results.

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Complaining to Your Spouse

Whether you've been married for 42 years or dating for 42 days, your loved one may have an extra-special talent for getting under your skin--and tying your tongue. Toronto social worker and relationship expert Sari Shaicovitch says the key to complaining effectively is to "lay everything on the table."You need to sit down together and calmly spell out what is bothering you. "When people do not express how they feel, they end up holding resentment toward their partner, which comes out in aggressive ways,"she says. Unresolved frustration can be dangerous for a relationship.

Besides sex and power dynamics, one of the most common complaints among couples relates to money. It's important to be specific with your spouse about what you want. For example, explain to your partner that you'd like to spend less on a cable football package or a movie network and spend more on your date-night budget. But be prepared to compromise. You may agree to allocate more cash toward the cable bill if you can find inexpensive ways to spend time together. Or you may agree to watch a few rom-coms at home if you can spend the rest of the entertainment budget on hot dogs and beer at the stadium.

No matter what agreement you reach, do unto others. "You need to be prepared to hear your spouse out the way you would want to be heard,"says Shaicovitch.

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Complaining to Your Doctor

Past generations were afraid to bellyache about bellyaches. But the days of doctors in white coats holding clipboards and barking orders are in the past. "Today a good doctor should be your medical advocate,"says Dr. Judy Hagshi, a family practitioner in Montreal.

The patient isn't off the hook, however. Your job is to make it easy for the doctor to help. Today's clinicians may see more than 30 people in a single day. This doesn't mean they care about you any less; it just means that you'll need to refresh their memories as to the details of your situation.

When complaining to your physician, you need to be armed with all the relevant facts. "Present an accurate list of your medical history, including surgeries and medications, as well as names of specialists,"says Hagshi. And bring a notebook: you may want to refer to today's discussion at your next appointment.

Precision is key when dealing with your health. If you're unhappy with your prescribed medication, tell your doctor what you're taking and how often, and what it is in particular that's bothering you. Then ask for help. The more focused you are about what you need, the easier it will be for the doctor to respond to your concerns.

"Having all this information available will make your consultation as productive as possible,"says Hagshi.

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Complaining to Your Boss

For best results, schedule a time to meet with your supervisor to discuss your concerns. Then, before charging in with a laundry list of complaints, take an honest look at your own performance. If there is anything you could be doing better, use that as a conversation opener.

An example: if your sales were down last quarter, tell your boss you recognize that. You have looked at your client list and promise to research leads more thoroughly before you approach prospective customers in the future. This indicates that you are open to change; your boss will be more ready to hear what you have to say. "Whether it's your direct boss or another supervisor, it's always about taking an even-handed approach,"says Mark Walton, of the management consulting firm Mark Walton and Associates.

You will be more successful if you offer creative yet specific ways to resolve a complaint. Let's say your cubicle is next to the loud break room, and you find the noise distracting. Would it be possible to move you to a quieter location? Can the company finance a pair of noise-cancelling headphones? Or can partying in the break room be limited to certain times of day?

"Remember," says Walton, "your boss is not your friend. You are complaining to your supervisor because you want to see something change in the organization. If you just want to whine, choose another set of ears."