How to Complain Politely in English

When you have a bad experience, it’s easy to get angry and complain. Sometimes that’s not the best way to get want you want, though. People get defensive and become closed to suggestions when other people are rude to them so a much more effective way to get what you want is to remain calm and polite. Here are five simple tips to help you stay calm, be polite and get what you want when you complain in English.

Start politely

Starting a complaint with “I’m sorry to bother you” or “Excuse me, I wonder if you can help me” puts the listener at ease. People are easier to deal with if they feel comfortable so even if you are angry, try to stay calm and start the conversation with one of these phrases. For example “I’m sorry to bother you, but I wanted a baked potato, not fries.”

Make your request into a question

Everyone would much rather be asked to do something than told! So try phrasing your complaint as a request for help: “Can you help me with this? My shirt came back from the laundry missing buttons.” Use modal verbs such as would, could and can to make your request as polite as possible. In English, we call this distancing.

Explain the problem

Rather than saying, “Your information is wrong. Please fix it now.” Explain what the correct situation should be by introducing it with the expression “There has been a misunderstanding.” This makes it clear what you want while not blaming the person you are complaining to for making the mistake. For instance, if you say “I’m afraid there may be a misunderstanding. I requested a non-smoking room.” any hotel with good customer service will understand they need to give you a non-smoking room even if that isn’t what they had booked for you.

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Don’t blame the person you are dealing with

Often when you make a complaint, you deal with a person who was not directly responsible for the problem. But the problem isn’t your fault, either! This phrase is helpful when you need swift action. Tell the person you’re dealing with you understand they’re not at fault and then directly state the problem: “I understand it’s not your fault, but the airline promised they would deliver my baggage yesterday.”

Show the you are in the know

Use the phrase “I understood that…” to let person you are speaking to know you’re well-informed and are suspicious they might be trick you. Don’t say, “Hey! You’re trying to cheat me!” Instead, start indirectly by stating what you know to be true: “I understood that the taxi ride to the airport was only 25 dollars.” Then give them an opportunity to respond.

Remember, you are the customer and if you have paid for a service, you should get what you want. Stay calm when you are complaining and if you don’t get what you want, ask to speak to someone more senior. Most of the time, though, a simple smile and a polite conversation using the tips above will get you exactly what you want.