Learning to Complain

By Susan Deitz

February 7, 2018 5 min read

Opening your mouth isn't only for feeding; it's also for complaining. But let's face it: Most women don't have much experience expressing negative opinions. Our function as the calmer of troubled waters is so deeply ingrained that it's almost a genetic trait. We've been conditioned to skirt around confrontation and head-on collisions in any form. So it's just logical that in those rare times when we have no choice but to gripe, we come across as too loud or too timid, either suffering in pained silence or raging in inappropriate aggression. Well, yours truly thinks it's time to make your opinions heard in a style that represents you as you'd like to be heard. Together, we're going to practice this art form until you and I get it just right.

Step 1: Speak to the people who serve — waiters, countermen, mail carriers, delivery people. Make a comment to them about a missing item or late delivery. And when you do complain, fight the old impulse to eat your words and apologize for the bother. Make a point of noticing your own gestures, your voice, your inner tension. The goal here is to learn how to complain when appropriate. Be on the lookout for opportunities to speak up. And when you do find one, stay low-key in tone. You'll be heard when you use a moderate tone and calm body language.

Step 2: Next time you eat out, ask for your sandwich to be toasted or for extra mayonnaise. Requesting small details is in the same category as making a complaint. Asking for what you want may sound elementary, but some women feel so itchy about speaking their mind (in public, especially) that they do without their preferences. I don't want that for you. I want you to believe me when I say that it gets easier with practice. The more often you ask the easier it gets. Again, for emphasis: Ask for what you want when you want it! But like most simplicities (eating when you're hungry, sleeping when you're tired), it's anything but simple. Ask me.

Step 3: At this point, you're ready for a full-blown complaint. Make sure you have a valid gripe; don't invent one. (In this less-than-perfect world, it shouldn't take long before you find the real thing.) When the dry cleaner returns your favorite suit with two ivory buttons missing, fight the urge to either say nothing or raise your voice to fever pitch. You'll get more satisfaction using the "iron fist in a velvet glove" approach — outwardly gentle, inwardly immovable. Do not walk away from a dialogue until you get written assurance of a comparable replacement or payment for a full set of buttons of similar value.

Step 4: Don't waste energy. Make sure you complain to the right person. If you get no satisfaction from the counter clerk, ask to speak to the manager. State your case clearly and concisely. There is no need to overstate; the facts speak eloquently. And don't let yourself be distracted into complaining about the slow service, surly help or inconvenient hours. Repeat your primary complaint until you receive full satisfaction.

Once you see results, you'll rather enjoy exercising your assertiveness muscles. They may be a bit rusty from disuse, but they'll limber up quickly. Practice, practice, practice. Feminine assertion is an acquired skill. The power of complaining, like any power, must never be abused, however. The more effective you become the more responsibility you have to be considerate to the people around you. And not surprisingly, effectiveness actually makes life easier. The more you assert the more people will be aware of you as effective, relate to you more carefully and give you less cause for complaint.

Ready for center stage?

DEAR READERS: We've uncovered a treasure-trove of "Single File" paperbacks — in perfect condition, ready to read. Send $15 and your address to: Susan Deitz, C/O Creators Syndicate, 737 Third St., Hermosa Beach, CA 90254. I'll send you a signed copy.

Have a question for Susan? You can reach her directly at [email protected]

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