Tact Is Essential

One of the most valuable things I learn through experience is tact. Naturally, I learn it by making mistakes.

When we have open minds, we can learn from others’ mistakes.  Do you care enough about your own future to allow me to educate you?

Okay, that wasn’t the most humble way of phrasing the offer.  Still…

This bit of advice pertains to writing letters of complaint.  We all have to write one every now and then, and some of us write more than others.  There are reasons for some of us being more prolific that way.  No, we aren’t necessarily too sensitive.

For most of my life, I was too timid in one-on-one verbal disputes.  If I tried to approach someone in authority to report that his/her subordinate had behaved unprofessionally (such as asking me out and commenting that he liked “The Reubens Type” while weighing me in the doctor’s office), the person in authority would respond, “If you don’t like it you can leave,” or something to that effect. I never had a snappy comeback, as if that would have helped.

It’s easy for a wimp with power to say, off the record, “You can leave.” It might make a little bit of trouble for the company/institution if an irresponsible reply is put in writing, but when spoken with no witnesses or electronic recording devices it’s a slam dunk.

I can handle people like that better now.  At least I don’t stay silent.  I offer a reasoned argument before being told for the fourth or fifth time that if I don’t like it I can leave.

That’s where written complaints come in.  They don’t usually work, either, but if there’s a skilled public relations person in charge of replying to complaints you’ll receive a slightly more polite answer. It’ll be the same polite answer that’s mailed to every poor bastard who tries to get a problem resolved.

“We regret that our services failed to meet your expectations.”

“We share your concern.”

“We thank you for bringing this to our attention, for it assists us in our continuing effort to improve services.”

Okay, if you have trouble with certain people, consider yourself screwed.  Still, most of the time you don’t have to refrain from speaking up.  Just keep in mind that restraint must be used in speaking your mind.

Here’s something I learned from an acquaintance’s mistake.  Law enforcement agents (never mind which agency) showed up at her door exactly three days after she mailed a letter of complaint about a store clerk to a retailer’s headquarters.

The clerk in question had rung up a six dollar purchase, and the customer paid with a twenty dollar bill.  The clerk promptly put the money in the till and made change for a ten.  The customer spoke up, and the clerk just said, “Now, you have a good day,” and walked away.

Speaking to the manager didn’t help.  So, she wrote to the company. The letter’s greeting read, “Dear Shifty Fuckers.”

The letter got worse after that.

The sad part of this story is the letter was just a blowing-off-steam rough draft which wasn’t meant to be mailed.  The final draft was written without anything vulgar or inflammatory, but the wrong letter went into the envelope by mistake.

The agents left her apartment with a warning, and she never heard from them again.  She was also told to stay away from the store where the clerk had stolen her money.  It wasn’t a court order, just advice from guys in suits who scared the hell out of her.

I won’t judge her for making that mistake.  However, I’m O.C.D., and can swear that ever since that happened to her I’ve reopened envelopes before mailing letters a little more often.  I always did that, but after hearing about her misfortune there has been a more frequent impulse to take one last look at outgoing mail.

Sad to say, I’ve written a few of those “Dear Shifty Fuckers” rough drafts myself.

Safety First.


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