“How can I make a request or complaint without seeming like a constant complainer?”

Question: (This question came in as a comment/question in response to one of our most popular newsletter blog-posts, Appearing High Maintenance Can Hurt Your Career.”)

The problem, of course, is that in fast-changing environments, new problems can keep cropping up, and if you have to wait until your next annual gripe to mention them, you’ll be doing a whole lot of suffering before you get any redress of grievances.

How do you respond if your fast-changing environment keeps changing in ways that harm you and your ability to perform?                                                                        

The Blogadoccio Blog

Answer: Dear Robert: It’s a matter of judgment: how to work without being viewed either as a chronic complainer or a perpetual victim. I think there are five general guidelines to follow:         

1. Guideline 1: Choose your battles wisely and carefully. It makes no sense to ask for additional pencils, but it might make a lot of sense to ask for additional staff if important clients are clamoring for more attention. While those illustrative examples are quite clear, others may not be so clear. Suffice it to say that it is smarter to fight important battles, and not become known as a “constant battler.”

2. Guideline 2: If you want your requests to be taken seriously, don’t make requests too often. Imagine yourself being asked by your kids for a new toy – or a new car – every two days. It sure would get on your nerves, wouldn’t it. Keep it in mind.

3. Guideline 3: Try to portray the problem as a problem for the group, not just for you. Even if you are asking for a raise in salary, which would affect you only, you could justify it as “necessary to maintain level compensation for all Assistant Vice Presidents, and thus prevent rivalry and jealousies among colleagues.” Even if you are requesting more vacation, you might justify it as “helpful to remedy the effects of frequent international travel, and thus keep you in best shape to address the all-too-common emergency needs of the group.” Sure, these are a bit far-out, but they are indicative of the preference for solving a “group” concern, and not a “personal” one.

4. Guideline 4: Make your request sound like a positive suggestion, not a nagging moan and groan. You’ve heard it before: “Presentation is important.” “Ground sirloin” sounds a whole lot more appetizing than “chopped meat.” Keep your tone light and positive, not dark and negative. Remember, too, that covering something with honey makes it sweeter: by first acknowledging your boss’s perspective, his or her concerns, and the burdens he or she carries, you are making it more likely he or she will show appreciation for your doing so.   

5. Guideline 5: Offer one or more practical solutions, not a vague remedy. I have had clients seek “market compensation,” which seems to call for a study of market compensation, while I have suggested “a bonus of at least $40,000,” which is easier to respond to. Likewise, I have had clients ask for “greater involvement and responsibilities”; I had no idea what that meant. I have suggested, instead, requesting “appointment to the underwriting committee” as a more focused – and easier way to respond to – request. I’ve even had clients seek “to be made to feel more confident in my future,” to which I have counseled “No one can make you feel anything.” The idea here: make it easy to grant your requests, and you are more likely to get them granted.  

Robert, I hope these guidelines help make decisions about making requests or complaints easier. You don’t want to appear to be a complainer, but having the reputation of a willing victim is not helpful, either. Don’t be afraid to be assertive, but don’t be known as a “groaner,” either.

Thanks for writing in. I suggest readers may enjoy your blog, too.   

Al Sklover

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© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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