How to Complain to Your Boss

All material on is copyrighted to Marie G. McIntyre. All rights reserved.
May be reproduced for non-commercial use with copyright and attribution to
Commercial use requires permission: email

When problems arise at work, people often want to head straight for the boss’s office to get them straightened out. Coworker squabbles, project mishaps, unfair policies, stupid decisions by upper management, colleagues’ annoying personality traits – managers are asked to deal with all of these issues.

But before taking a complaint to your boss, you need to determine exactly what you want and figure out the best way ask for it. Otherwise, your manager may decide that you’re a whiner. So here are some suggestions to consider before taking an issue to your boss.

1. Do a cost / benefit assessment.

First, weigh the pros and cons of taking the problem to your manager. Can he really do anything about it? Will she expect you to be able to handle it on your own? Will he get mad and retaliate later? Do you actually expect action or do you just want to complain? If you can’t see a clear benefit to involving your boss, you might want to reconsider.

2. Lose the emotion.

If you are upset about an issue, calm down before talking to your manager. Bosses do not want to wade through four layers of feelings before getting to the problem. So if you are really angry or emotionally wound up, don’t go storming into your manager’s office. Take a few deep breaths or vent to a coworker first. When you talk to your boss, you need to be in a calm, businesslike frame of mind.

3. Consider the management point of view.

Before taking an issue to any manager, you need to consider how it looks from their level. Don’t expect them to automatically take your side or see it your way. Managers are usually focused on the big picture, the bottom line, and the need for coworkers to cooperate. So you need to think that way as well.

4. Decide what you want your boss to do.

Never take a problem to your boss without also presenting a possible solution or a request for specific action. If you simply want to complain, talk to a friend or start a journal. Managers absolutely hate it when employees just dump problems in their lap. So before bringing up an issue, determine exactly how you would like your boss to help.

5. Present the business case.

Whatever the problem, you need to determine how it relates to business issues. Managers are typically concerned about customers, quality, teamwork, and financial results. When talking with your boss, explain how your problem is adversely affecting one of those factors. That’s the best way to get his or her attention.

6. Focus on facts.

Don’t complain about others’ personality traits, make unsubstantiated assumptions, or inject your personal feelings into the issue. Describe the situation in a completely factual manner.

7. Look forward, not backward.

The main purpose of going to your boss is to create a better future, not to complain about the past. Use information from the past to inform the situation, but stay focused on what needs to be done to correct the problem.

8. Take group action for group problems.

If many people are upset about a policy, decision, or coworker’s behavior, then the whole group needs to talk to the boss. This will get more attention and make it clear that the concern is widespread. Never volunteer to be the “messenger” on a controversial issue. As you may have heard, messengers sometimes get shot. And if no one else is concerned about your problem, consider whether it’s really worth taking it to the manager.