Talk With People: 6 Steps to Cut Complaints & Build Connection

Talk With People: 6 Steps to Cut Complaints & Build Connection image DATE: September 9, 2021

A complaint is a symptom that a problem may exist.

That’s a line in a customer service book I wrote several years ago. But complaints don’t only happen in the world of sales and consumers. Many business owners, managers, and supervisors deal with complaints from their team members every day.

If you’re hearing complaints, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a problem. But it is a red flag that deserves your attention. Often the first — best — place to start looking into complaints is to conduct a self-check to see if your communication efforts could be the root of the problem.

When coaching and training our business clients, we remind them this six-step communication approach may not only resolve a lot of the complaints that arise. They will likely find the connection and relationships with team members, co-workers, and yes, customers, improve dramatically. I encourage you to give it a try.


1. Talk with people. 

Not about people, not behind people, not around people, and not up to or down to people. Figure out how you can talk with people. The more this is a two-way conversation, the more effective communication will be. Are you talking with people? And are you giving them a chance to talk with you?

2. Explain the process.

Often people are confused or just don’t understand how things are to happen. Confusion leads to frustration, and frustration can lead to complaints. Have you taken the time to explain the process to your people and ensure they understand what to expect?

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3. Tell the truth. 

You’ll never find an appropriate time to be untruthful. Frankly, if someone catches you in an untruth, they’re not going to trust what you say going forward. And that’s the kiss of death for any business professional. Have you been truthful? If not, waste no time admitting your error and working to rebuild your integrity.

4. Work for understanding. 

Most people focus on the word “understanding.” Certainly, there has to be understanding for communication to be successful. But I put the emphasis on that first word, “work.” If understanding doesn’t happen immediately you can’t give up, throw your hands in the air, and say you’re through trying. You’ve got to go to work ensuring what you’ve communicated is understood correctly. The responsibility for understanding rests on the one who initiated the message. Have you thrown in the towel or are you working for understanding?

5. Get them involved. 

People prefer dialogues to monologues. The more you involve them in the conversation, the more you engage them. It’s not a lecture, it’s a discussion. Ask for their insights and their input. What do they think would resolve the problem? It’s one of the greatest questions to ask to increase employee or customer engagement… “What do you think?”

These five steps will resolve many complaints and improve your connections with employees, team members, and customers:

  • Talk with people
  • Explain the process
  • Tell the truth
  • Work for understanding
  • Get them involved

But sometimes those five steps still leave communication results a little lacking. In the end, you must include this final step.

6. Do your job. 

As a business owner, a manager, a supervisor, or a leader in some other role, you ultimately must do your job. It’s your responsibility to set the expectation, communicate it, and then give feedback on how that expectation is either being met or missed. It may be unpleasant, but if you’re not communicating the difficult messages, then quite frankly you’ve abandoned your responsibility. Ask yourself this hard question: Are you neglecting the uncomfortable part of talking with the people you lead and serve?

Use these six steps when you talk with people, and watch complaints subside and your relationships grow!

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About The Author:

Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE is committed to helping organizations transform their business outcomes by building engaged employee relationships. He is an award-winning keynote speaker and author on engaged leadership and communication. His most recent book is “Earning The Right To Be Heard," a primer for creating greater influence and opportunities. Connect with Phil on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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