How To Survive Making A Complaint Call in English With Your Sanity Intact. (Clue: It Doesn’t Involve Clever English Words)

by | Apr 18, 2019 | 0 comments

You can’t delay the inevitable any longer. You’re going to have to pick that phone up or schedule that video call and face the person (or company) who’s been causing you a lot of stress.


➣ That supplier who’s delivered the wrong order three times in a row despite umpteen emails.

➣ The rail company who’s not given you a satisfactory answer to your written request for a refund.

➣ The bank who’s cancelled your line of credit without warning.


And to make matters worse, you have to have this conversation in English!

“I hate making these calls. My English is not good enough.”

Not good enough for what? Let me guess.


➣ You don’t have enough English words >> the right words to express yourself or to respond quickly.

➣ You make too many grammar mistakes and that makes you feel foolish.

➣ Just as you want to give a quick response, your mind goes blank. >> you lose the momentum >> you can’t state your position clearly >> you lose the argument. >>It’s worse when you get angry or frustrated >> emotions kick in and you can’t think rationally.


The result?

You feel frustrated >> You feel out of control.

I completely understand you. I feel the same way every single time I have to make a complaint in Italian or have a conversation I know will get heated.

Just as I want to give a clever put-down, my Italian words fail me. I can only think in English. The momentum is lost and I end up feeling deflated and super frustrated.

It’s so much easier to complain in your first language, isn’t it?


You have more words >> You can pull the right (appropriate) words out without thinking. >> You can navigate far more easily when you get emotional (angry or upset). >> You can think of those clever put-downs that give you the upper hand at that crucial moment.

In other words, you are in control.  


That’s what it’s all about, right?

So, you tell yourself if you learn more words and improve your grammar in English, you’ll have control.

Here’s what you do to take control of those complaint calls in English.


➣ You scan through Google looking for vocabulary worksheets that’ll give you the necessary expressions to make complaints in English.

➣ You watch How To Make A Complaint in English YouTube videos.

➣ You sign up for 10 online conversation classes.

➣ You dust down your old grammar book and revise those tenses.

You’ve completed the exercises, you’ve watched umpteen videos, you’ve role-played the scenarios.

You’re ready.  


Then reality strikes. You have that call and it’s a disaster. Nothing went to plan. Words failed you. You lost control. Again. Ouch!

Here’s something I want you to consider.  


Are you truly in control when you have the same call in your language? Do you always achieve your desired outcome?


Let’s stop to reflect what happens when you make a complaint in YOUR language.

Observe the verbal and non-verbal signs.


You’re already annoyed before you make the call.  >> You’re thinking about all the things that have happened (or not) that have got you to this point.>> Before you’ve even started, you’re bracing yourself for a ‘fight’.


As the conversation progresses and it’s clear you’re not getting the outcome you desire,  strong emotions kick in >> your breathing changes >> it becomes shallower as less oxygen is going to your brain.


The right side of your brain, the emotional side, takes over >> you stop thinking rationally.


You stop listening to understand >> you start listening to respond. Without thinking.


You rack your brains to come up with clever words (one-liners) to shut the other person up and get the upper hand. >> to make yourself feel good.


All this makes you feel good and you believe you have the upper hand.


But is this communication?




It’s a fight.

It’s the ‘may the best person win’ situation.

It’s a dog- eat- dog scenario.

It’s a shouting match.

It’s ‘who speaks the loudest wins’.

It might make you feel good for the briefest of times, but all that speaking/shouting is pointless because no one’s communicating.

Is this what you want?

Because that’s not how business is done or should be done.


Time to change tactic. Time to start communicating.

Try this.


Have an open mind before the call. >> don’t go in prepared for a fight.

Take a deep breath and be prepared to listen to understand first. >> to listen to understand their side of the story

Pause before replying >> especially if what they’ve said has made you angry. Take a deep breath >> give yourself some white space to collect your thoughts >> to think rationally.

Try and maintain a neutral tone in your voice >> it’s much harder to shut down someone who’s keeping calm.

Adjust your body language especially if you’re on a video call >> your body can betray signs of tension as our shoulders go up, we cross our elbows, our eyes widen and our nostrils flare.

Drop expressions like “listen. …”, “it’s not my problem, it’s yours”, “what kind of organisation are you?” , “look, I don’t have time….” >> They’re not going to help you communicate.


Observe what happens. Any changes?

You bet!


With this new tactic, you’re not simply exchanging words (speaking/shouting). You’re communicating with each other to achieve the desired outcome. It’s a partnership, not a slinging match.


And guess what? You can do this in English too!

You don’t need vocabulary worksheets or YouTube ‘How To’ videos or grammar exercises.

All you need is the language you already have and the following strategy. 👇🏽


Here’s a strategy to ‘complain’ in English using the language you have already and maintaining control.

You can pre-empt emotions from kicking in and making your mind go blank by preparing for the call. Here are some of my suggestions.


Create a mind map of the possible scenarios that could arise during the conversation. >> it’s always much easier to deal with the unexpected if we anticipate certain scenarios.


Using the mind map, imagine the possible responses and plan your reaction to them. >> this will minimise the ‘unreliable’ emotions kicking in.


Consider your caller >> who are they? Do you know them? Are they international speakers of English? >> What’s their level of English? >> Are they decision makers? >>Have you spoken to each other before? >> Will they be able to solve the problem at the end of this call or will they need further authorisation?


Go in with a genuine desire to listen first to understand >> Resist the temptation to interrupt to speak. >> keep reminding yourself of this during the call.


Give yourself permission to pause before replying >> pausing shows you’re giving serious thought to the other person’s suggestions >> it gives you time to refer to your mind map and gather your thoughts >> pausing stops us from saying things we could regret.



Sometimes we believe our clever words demonstrate our upper hand and remind people of our superiority, but they rarely bring us our desired outcome.

All they do is leave a sour taste in our mouth and an uncomfortable business atmosphere.

Our clever words uttered in the loudest voice don’t make us communicators. They make us babblers.


“An empty vessel makes the loudest sound, so they that have the least wit are the greatest babblers.” Plato