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By Fred Kofman
Philosopher and Vice President at Linkedin

When someone makes a promise to you, she is not only promising to deliver what she committed; she is also promising to not let you down. If you want to cooperate with efficiency (It), preserve the relationship (We), and help her maintain her integrity (I),  you can’t stay quiet if there’s a breakdown. You need to make a productive complaint.

When you complain productively, you seek to restore effectiveness, trust, and integrity. You confront only once, and you follow through to resolution. At best, you end up with a new agreement that closes the matter. At worse, you realize that your counterpart is not trustworthy and you can responsibly decide what you want to do about it.

There are three steps for a productive complaint:

1. Check the commitment. Many problems result from miscommunication at the time of commitment: You think you requested X; your counterpart thinks she promised Y. If this is the case, then discuss how to avoid repeating this in the future.

2. Ask what happened. Besides helping you understand the other person’s perspective, inquiry shows respect. It helps you evaluate whether or not the causes for the breakdown arose after the promise and were thus unforeseeable. For example, if she called you at the last minute, or not at all, ask why she didn’t let you know earlier.

3. Negotiate a recommitment. To repair the breakdown you may just need your counterpart to recommit to the original promise, or you may require some additional conditions. The key is to clearly ask for what you need to close the issue, restore trust, and feel at peace.

The first level of a complaint concerns effectiveness. For example, you may complain about the fact that your counterpart did not show up for the meeting as agreed. He might have an excellent reason for not keeping his promise. For example, he might have gotten an urgent request from a customer that you agree takes priority over an internal meeting.

The second level concerns trust. For example, you may complain about the fact that he didn’t let you know when he decided not to attend the meeting. It’s much harder to justify the lack of an early warning. As I said in my previous post, integrity means “no surprises” and one can preserve it even when one cannot deliver on one’s commitment.

If your counterpart acknowledges that his behavior was a breach of integrity and that he should have called you, then you can accept his apology and move to negotiate a recommitment. A person who breaks a commitment affects the task, the relationship, and his integrity. When you confront him with grace, you give him an opportunity to correct matters and reestablish trust.

In the following video, you can find more details about how to make effective complaints.

 

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