Sports Administration: How to Handle Complaints

Dick Moss, Editor, PE

Do you often find yourself handling complaints from staff members, students and parents?  Here are several time-tested tips for handling complaints without provoking an argument.

Complaint Tips

  1. First, make sure complainants can see you relax. If they see you tense up, it stimulates their “fight or flight” reflexes, which prepares them for confrontation.
  2. Listen intently…and use body language that shows you're doing so (i.e. nodding your head, etc). Sometimes, allowing people to vent their frustrations to an active listener is all that's needed.
  3. Ask questions to show that you are indeed listening and understanding. Questions will also help the complainant to clarify exactly what the problem is. For example, a series of questions can get you from, “This school sucks!” to “My parking spot is too far away!”).
  4. Agree with the complainant when they make a good point. Having somebody say, “You're absolutely right—I'd feel the same” can take the wind out of any complainant's sails. 
  5. Finally, set limits as to what you can do for the complainant and establish a solution that you both can live with (e.g. “I don't give out parking spots, the principal does. But I'll recommend you get a closer spot since you have to carry the universal gym into class every day. I'll see him today and report to you tomorrow.”).

1. “Brainstorming: Overcome objections.” Boardroom Reports, July 15, 1984.
2. Robert Lussier, David Kimball, Applied Sport Management Skills, Human Kinetics, 2009.

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