I’ve been discussing ways to voice a complaint at work so that you get heard and changes get made. For sure, no one likes to be a complainer and no one likes listening to grumbling. Nevertheless, there are times when you must speak up. If you choose your battles and your audience wisely you will be respected for your efforts to make changes.

Here are more tips on how to voice a complaint at work, from Professor Johny Garner in a Harvard Business Review blog post (“How to Communicate Dissent at Work,” February 4, 2013).

Supervisors and coworkers are more likely to lend you their ears when you communicate in a calm, rational manner. Use direct, factual appeals to bolster your position. Include supporting information that demonstrates critical thinking and analysis to stay within the bounds of rational behavior.

Sometimes, however, adding a touch of emotion to your presentation may work in your favor—particularly if you reference the values under which your organization operates. Few people will challenge these organizational aims, thus making your dissent more persuasive and less controversial.

Choose Calm. While it may be tempting to employ threats, aggressive demands or ultimatums, these approaches usually backfire and are considered inappropriate in a professional environment. Remember: Every employee is replaceable. Threaten to quit, and you may get your wish.

Even if pressure tactics prove successful, your relationships will suffer, hampering your future happiness and success. And if you’re the one who backs down from a standoff, you’ll lose credibility.

When to Dissent?

Dissent can be risky because some people feel threatened when an employee questions a policy or practice. But you should never accept something because “it’s the way we’ve always done it” or your manager says it’s the only way.

Author Garner explains there’s a threshold—somewhere between mildly annoying and clearly illegal or dangerous—where you need to say something about the status quo. This juncture will be different for everyone, based on personality, relationships and organizational climate.

In my work coaching executives, I hear a lot of complaints. That gives me an opportunity to sort through the ones that are worth going to battle for and those that are best left alone.

Think critically about your workplace experiences. When you need to, use the tips presented here to speak up constructively. What’s been your experience with complaints? As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here or on LinkedIn.


  • Julie M

    Great post as always Nancy! Tact (and a little bit of honey!) will get you more than hostility/aggressiveness in most situations for sure. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on chronic complainers, especially ones who are in a higher position that you.