How to make an effective complaint
A complaint is simply expressing dissatisfaction about something you feel is unjust or unfair or something which could be improved by making a change. It may be something straightforward, such as a clash of due dates for assessment tasks, which may be addressed by the Unit Chair. On the other hand, it may be something that requires long-term consideration and consultation with others before any change may be made, such as including relevant practical placements as part of a particular Unit. Depending on the issue, you need to consider the most suitable way to lodge your complaint, that is, by making a written submission or an appointment with the appropriate person. Examine carefully the underlying reasons for your desire to make a complaint - is it a need to be heard even though you have no expectation of any changed outcome or is it merely to vent your anger. This will help you determine whether the complaint is a legitimate complaint and one worth making.
Benefits of communicating a complaint effectively
In situations where you feel you are being unfairly treated or suffering hardship because of circumstances which could be changed, you may suffer feelings of stress, depression, anxiety, frustration or anger. These reactions can be relieved by expressing your views and thoughts and making reasonable and well thought out complaints to the appropriate persons. You need to allow the other person to explain his or her views on the issue and give careful consideration to the matters raised. A satisfactory resolution to the problem may or may not be reached, but you will feel better about the situation if you have exercised your personal rights and your complaints have been heard and considered.
Using an assertive style of communication
Assertive communication means that you clearly express your views, how you feel and what you want in such a way that you avoid intimidating, threatening or aggressive behaviour which violates the rights of others. You are much more likely to be successful in obtaining a favourable outcome by treating others with courtesy and respect, so that they do not become alienated.
Strategies for making effective complaints
- Make enquiries at the relevant Faculty Office to find out who is the most appropriate person to deal with your complaint and how you may go about making an appointment with that person.
- Write down the details and outline the problem clearly. Prepare a list of main points for discussion, including options which you see available to solve the problem.
- Rehearse the manner in which you intend to approach the person with your complaint, using assertive communication.
- If there has been a history of complaints made in the past about the problem, list the times and dates of such instances and the person you dealt with at the time.
- When making your complaint, ensure that the person understands the exact nature of the problem. Sometimes people can misinterpret what you say and confusion can then arise. Seek confirmation of the person's understanding.
- It is of equal importance that you actively listen to the other person's point of view and make sure that you fully understand what that person is saying, look at the issue from his/her point of view. Provide feedback to the person about your understanding of his/her viewpoint so that there is no misunderstanding and the person feels heard and understood. (For further information on active listening see "Active Listening")
- Use a collaborative problem solving approach by:
- defining the problem clearly from both points of view
- identifying as many options as possible which may provide solutions
- weighing up which options are best
- trying to mutually decide on the best option or options
- discussing how these may be put into action
- Avoid threats, criticism or name-calling, as this can lead to defensive or aggressive responses from the person you are dealing with.
- Remain calm and try to ignore aggressive or threatening behaviour from the other person. Return to collaborative, problem solving approaches.
- If the discussion strays from the main points at issue, politely point this out to the other person and again raise the main concerns.
- Use simple language and avoid use of convoluted or pretentious words.
- Be respectful of the other person and listen carefully to his or her point of view.
- When stating what you would like to see happen, listen to what the other person would like and be prepared to compromise to reach a mutually acceptable option.
- It may not be possible to reach a solution immediately - be prepared to allow the other person time to consider the issues.
- Allow yourself time to consider the issues raised by the other person, remembering that there will always be different points of view to those you hold.
- Thank the other person for making the time to see you and for listening to your concerns.
Taking it further