When something doesn’t go our way (at, say, a restaurant, or with our cell phone plan, or at a store), we don’t want to be rude, but we also don’t want to be pushovers. Whether we’re protesting unfair credit card fees or trying to return a t-shirt that spontaneously developed a hole between the store and our home, it’s important that we master the art of socially-acceptable yet effective complaining.
The book Women Don’t Ask shows that women negotiate about half as frequently as men. From salaries to cell phone bills, readers tell us that they don’t stand up for what they deserve because they’re worried about what other people will think. A complaint shouldn’t be your way to lash out—it’s a simple negotiation.
These are the 5 things you need to know in order to be an effective negotiator:
1. Appeal On A Personal Level
Work/life success coach Marilyn Suttle calls it “asking for a champion.” Set your service providers up to feel great about themselves for helping you by letting them know how happy you’ll be to receive their help. She recommends phrases like: “I need a hero to help me out of this jam,” “I have a feeling you’re about to make my day,” and, “You seem like someone who can really make a difference for me.”
2. Think Of It As A Critique Rather Than A Reprimand
Narrow your problem down to something that can be fixed. Whenever possible, state your problem in terms of what you want, rather than what you don’t have. For example: “I really need my package to arrive by tomorrow, but the representative told me it hasn’t been shipped yet—even though it was supposed to go out three days ago. Is there anything you can do for me?” Compare that to: “Your shipping is too slow!”
3. Stay Calm And Polite
Never, ever, ever be outright rude, since that just inspires spite, which almost never gets you what you need. Instead, use “controlled, strategic anger,” says Barry Maher, motivational speaker and author. It’s “particularly effective when coming from someone who, up to that point, has been nice.” If you haven’t slyly mentioned your leverage—like withdrawing your business or reporting someone to a superior—while being nice, this is the time to do so, in a calm but forceful manner.
4. Know What You Want
Always keep your goal in sight. If a clothing store sent you the wrong color sweater, your goal is to get the correct color. Sandra Lamb, etiquette expert and author, reminds us: “Your expectation should be to be made whole. Not to cash in or try for a bonus pay-off.” This means that, if the barista messes up your coffee order, you have the right to a new coffee—just don’t start asking for a new coffee plus four doughnuts. Having a specific goal will also help you know when to hold your ground and when to back down.
5. Speak To Someone With Influence
Don’t shoot the messenger! When the AT&T customer service rep tells you that he doesn’t have the authority to change your bill, then don’t yell at him. Recognize that you need to speak with the manager. Don’t belittle the person you’re speaking to when asking for the manager; if your current representative tells you that she doesn’t have the power to help you, ask politely for the person who does.
Whatever your tack, remember that it’s not wrong to insist on something you deserve—just make sure to do it constructively.