Complaining: Why, When, Where, and How

Everyone complains every now and then. Its a perfectly normal reaction to injustice, annoyance, or frustration. But no one should complain all the time. Its a waste of time, effort, and it doesn’t endear you to other people (especially those you are complaining to). In order to become a “good complainer” you have to figure out the four basics: Why? When? Where? and How?


Some people seem to make complaining into a hobby or even a full time job. All they do day in and day out is complain about their lives, their job, relatives, etc. We all know (or at least have heard of) someone like this. But what are they really achieving with their complaints? Besides making themselves feel better, are they really accomplishing anything? Righting wrongs? Fixing problems? Odds are they aren’t doing any of those things.

So when you complain, ask yourself: why? You should try and have some goal in mind when you complain, whether it be to prove a point, receive compensation, or rectify a problem. If you aren’t trying to accomplish something with your complaints, then you are just wasting time. You are engaging in meaningless activity that only brings those around you down.


When to complain is very important if you are looking to get results. The best time to complain is soon after whatever you are complaining about happens. The longer you wait, the slimmer the chances of anything being done about it. This element is often important when it comes to things like retail sales, grades, and decisions by authority figures. Wait too long and nobody is going to take you seriously. For example, if you come into a retail store 10 minutes before closing time, don’t expect the staff to be particularly sympathetic.


Once you’ve determined if and why you should make a complaint and have decided on when to do it, you need to discover where to complain. Big companies often have a customer service or complaints department whose sole purpose is to handle complaints, so those are an obvious choice. If your complaint is of a more personal nature or doesn’t involve parties with such departments, it becomes harder to judge who you should complain to.

First of all, you shouldn’t complain to someone who has no power to do anything. When I was working in a pharmacy patients would do this all the time. They would complain to me, never letting me get a word in and at the end of their rant I would direct them to someone else. So when you complain, ask specifically for someone with some authority. Explain your situation briefly and accurately and then wait for their response.

Secondly, before you start to complain make sure you are complaining to the right people. The people you might look to blame could only be an intermediary between you and the offending party(i.e. the idea of “dont shoot the messenger”). They might not have any knowledge or control over the situation, and to involve them often complicates the situation. Make sure you know who is the actual cause of the problem!


Once you have all the information you need to make your complaint, how do you go about stating your case? There area  number of does and don’ts which can help you get a desirable outcome.

  1. Don’t lead with anger. Immediate, hot anger alienates those who otherwise would be willing to help you. It is fine to have indignation or even outrage, but you need to control your emotions.
  2. Make sure you have your facts straight. Getting your facts right helps other people help you.
  3. Recognize the difference between other’s mistakes and your own. Don’t take it out on other people if you didn’t read the fine print, or forgot some important detail.
  4. Allow for other people to be human. Everyone makes mistakes, and we all have to deal with the consequences. Would you like it if you were constantly blasted for honest mistakes or misunderstandings?

Complaints can lead to good things. If handled correctly, they can right wrongs, improve relationships, and ensure the best outcome for everyone. If handled incorrectly, they can waste time, tear people down, and confuse and hinder a situation. Learn to handle your complaints the right way. You and everyone else will be the happier for it.


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