How to write a diplomatic complaint letter

There are many times when it is necessary to tell people things they don’t want to hear. Asking for a refund, refusing a request, or canceling an appointment are all bad news situations. It is often easier to give bad news in writing. That way you can organize your thoughts before delivering your message, and the recipient can absorb the information without having to react right away.

But the truth is that if you present your message the right way, no one will respond badly. It’s important to remember what you actually want: to get a problem solved. Just blowing off steam won’t accomplish that goal, so do it first before you sit down to write a letter.

Always try to put yourself in the receiver’s position and ask, “How would I react if I got this letter?” If the answer is that you would get angry, crumple it up and throw it away, it’s time for a rewrite. The goal is to get the other person to solve a problem for you–if they do anything else you’ve wasted your time.

An effective bad newsletter contains three paragraphs. The first thing to do is establish common ground, no matter how small the lot size is. Think of it as talking about the weather to break the ice. Make it simple, but relevant. (“Your store has an excellent selection of women’s sandals.” “I have enjoyed coming to your restaurant since it opened.”) State the obvious if you have to. “Your store has been in business for many years” has been known to work, which illustrates an important point. That first sentence doesn’t have to be original or exciting, it just has to be inarguable.

The second paragraph contains four thoughts. The first is neutral and similar to the opening sentence, but it should start to allude to the problem. Try to send the message that “we’re all in this together.” (“Today’s economy makes maintaining a profit margin difficult.” “Your customer service representative was very helpful when I brought the toaster back to the store.”)

The next sentence gives the receiver a reason to care about your problem. (“I would like to continue to use your service.” “This matter deserves my full attention.”)

The actual bad news gets hidden in the third sentence. Make this sentence as long as you can and put the bad news at the end. The last sentence tells the receiver how you want them to solve the problem. Make the solution reasonable and make sure it’s something the receiver can actually do. In other words, don’t ask a sales clerk to change the return policy for an entire chain of discount superstores.

(“Please send a check for $26.91 to this address.” “I would like to schedule another appointment for next Tuesday.”) The last paragraph is cordial close. It only needs to be one sentence, but it must not even hint at the bad news. The idea is to leave the recipient in a positive frame of mind. (“I look forward to our next appointment.” “We appreciate your business.”)

There are three points to remember when composing one of these letters. The recipient must be happy when they finish reading. That will make them want to be helpful. The main goal of the letter is getting a positive result, not simply expressing your feelings. Finally, the message must be clear and leave no room for confusion. Following this simple formula will not only make these difficult letters easier to write, but dramatically increase your chances of getting the results you want.

There are three points

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