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In the old days, businesses didn’t bother with pretty language and the Customer Service area in many companies was called the Complaints Department. Even the best-run organisation can’t keep everyone happy always because humans love whining, and you’ll probably find that a significant part of your professional mail is related to making or receiving complaints.

False Claims

First, remember that complaining is not the same as claiming in English. We complain constantly about everything from a supplier’s broken promise to the quality of the coffee machine, but you only claim when you want something. You claim compensation from an insurance company or your prize in a lottery, but if you just want to let off steam, you’re complaining.

Writing Complaints

In the past, we learned how to write formal “letters of complaint”, and I will deal with the heavy stuff in my next blog, but these days, I reckon it’s probably more common, and certainly more difficult, to criticise a contact who you know well without upsetting them (too much).


First, forget the (often advisable) social opener. It’s kind of sinister to ask after someone’s kids then threaten to bankrupt them in the next line. Get to the point with something like “I’m writing to tell you that we are very unhappy about…” followed by a brief summary of the problem. You can think of this as something like a “title” for your mail. Then give details of what you were expecting from your contact and the way in which they let you down, perhaps describing the consequences you’ve suffered as a result if you really want them to sweat.


Finish your mail with a brief summary of what you expect your contact to do about the problem. It’s best to stay semi-polite if you can and a “Please ensure that…” is probably sufficient to show you’re serious without going further. If you are at the point where threats are necessary, continue with “Otherwise, we will be forced to…”. If you don’t have anything scarier to use, “…take further action” sounds suitably ominous.   If they don’t respond to the friendly reminder, the time has come to take the gloves off and get formal on their asses. In my next blog, I’ll be looking at weaponizing the passive, angrily emphatic inversions and other ways to attack people using formal E

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