Don’t Despair – Make an Actionable Complaint

Despite all of our skill and best intention, breakdowns in commitments are bound to happen. Breakdowns tend to linger and fester because of how we normally deal with them. We don’t. In order to address the problem and repair the relationship, we need to have “recommitment” conversations. A key element is making an actionable complaint. In doing so we need to talk directly to the person who did not meet the commitment, not complain to someone else, and it needs to be done right away.

I want to be very clear, we only really have grounds to complain when a specific commitment has been broken. If that’s not the case, just make a request.

Here is a conversation guideline that I have been using for years.

Complaint Conversation Recipe
1. State the commitment and check it
2. State the breakdown and check it
3. Inquire as to what happened
4. Express the damage to yourself, the task (project) and relationship
5. Ask for restitution – make a request
6. Design a better way to work in the future

Actionable complaints will generate respect and teamwork as well as learning. They don’t have to be prickly, hard edged conversations, rather a reasonable discussion. In the long term, a productive complaint seeks to establish a culture of achievement, trust, and mutual accountability.

Next time your boss asks you to hold someone accountable, don’t despair, you now have a conversation model to use.


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