You see a problem at work, in fact, a big one. You know you want to speak up. You weigh the pros and cons… complain or keep silent?

“Complaint has a noble history. It has driven human society forward and led to the abolition of systemic injustice. That it is now primarily associated with inconsequential moans and frivolous litigation is a travesty.” ~ Julian Baggini, Complaint: From Minor Moans to Principled Protests, Profile Books, 2010

Imagine this: You have a great idea that would change the way you work. In fact, you totally disagree with the systems or processes everyone’s been using. You have a legitimate complaint that needs to be heard by your supervisor, leadership team and/or coworkers.

But how do you voice dissent without being perceived as negative—or worse, a whiner?

“Dissent plays an important role in the workplace,” writes Johny T. Garner, a Texas Christian University communications professor, in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post (“How to Communicate Dissent at Work,” February 4, 2013). “For any organization to thrive, employees need to be able to propose solutions to problems, raise questions about unethical practices and ask how they can work more efficiently and effectively.”

Employees report greater job satisfaction in workplaces where dissenting opinions are accepted and even encouraged. Leaders should strive to create an open culture where people can consider a wider range of proposals and options before making decisions.

The Big Problem about Complaints

That said, there’s a big problem with dissent: A lot of people don’t want to hear it. Many employees worry that expressing dissent will cause their bosses and coworkers to see them negatively, or fear their input won’t make a difference anyway.

No one wants to hear scathing diatribes and grievances, so proceed carefully. Choose your audience, your words, and your emotions so people want to listen to your complaint – and even want to help you do something about it.

In my experience, there’s an art to getting heard by the right people at the right time and in the right way. That’s what my next two posts are about.

What’s been your experience with complaints – both receiving them and making them? As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here or on LinkedIn.