How To Start A Conversation:  Never Begin With A Complaint

by Gene Griessman, Ph.D.

There are few interpersonal relationship skills  more important than knowing how to complain and when.

Write this down, and never forget it.  It’s always a mistake to make a complaint at the beginning of a conversation—whether it’s a date, a call to a friend, a mother phoning her daughter, a business meeting, even a  reprimand.

If you begin the conversation with a comment, like “Why didn’t you get here (or call) sooner?   What happened?”  Or,  “You’re an hour late.” Or, “Why didn’t you call me last week?”

Do that, and you’re almost certain to spend time in negative territory.  In fact, your entire date or conversation may end up in negative territory.

Do forward thinking before you say anything.  Ask yourself, “If I say this, what will it get me?”   You don’t have to be a prophet to predict what will happen if you start with a negative.  The other person may play defense, and resent it, or strike back and play offense.

Even if it’s a business conversation and a reprimand, it’s wise to begin in a friendly manner.  (If you are going to give an employee bad news, it is critical that he/she believe that you are a sincere friend and that you have their best interest at heart.)

If it’s a date, remember that the ONLY reason to date is to have fun.  If it’s no fun, why do it?  You greatly diminish the likelihood that you’re going to have any fun if you start off with an accusation or a complaint.

When you begin negatively, the other party has to make a choice.  Even if the response is graceful and polite, there’s a very good chance that he/she will resent you.

I know of individuals who decided never to date a person again when that person’s initial comment was “You’re late.”

Just don’t do it.  If the person is late, don’t start off with a complaint or even a dig.  He/she may volunteer an explanation.  If that happens, be magnanimous.  If it doesn’t, move on anyway.

(There are effective ways to deal with people who are always late, but beginning the interaction with a scold is  not the way to do it.  For suggestions, we recommend the section on dealing with time thieves in “Time Tactics of Very Successful People.”)

What should you say at the beginning of the conversation?

It’s almost always safe to say:  “It’s really good to see you.  You look great.”  For phone conversations,  you might try: “ I’m glad you called. How’re you doing?”


Gene Griessman is an internationally known keynote speaker, actor, and communication strategist. His book “TheWords Lincoln Lived By” is in its 23rd printing and “Time Tactics of Very Successful People” is in its 43rd printing. His training video “Lincoln on Communication” is owned by thousands of corporations, libraries, and government organizations. He has spoken at conventions and annual meetings all over the world. To learn more about his presentations, call 404-435-2225. Learn more at Atlanta Speakers Bureau or at his website. His latest book “Lincoln and Obama” has just been released by Audible.
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