Recently I went to lunch with a friend (not a coworker) who was as mad as a wet hen over some things someone on his team had done. As he described what happened, his voice rose, and he became more and more animated, vowing to take his complaint all the way to the CEO of the company.

My first bit of advice was, “Calm down before you charge into anyone’s office, because if you lose your cool, you’re wrong—even if you’re right.” (It’s taken me years to learn that lesson myself.)

Then I asked, “Have you documented these incidents?” My friend’s reply was, “Well, no, but I don’t need to…” That’s where I interrupted and told him about my preferred method for documenting grievances.
Subscribe to Jeff Davis’ Help Desk TechMail , and get a bonus of Jeff’s picks for the best Web sites for IT support professionals—exclusively for TechMail subscribers.
Four benefits of keeping an incident diary
If you have “issues” with an end user, with a coworker, with your manager, or with anyone else in your company, don’t carry them around in your head. Put them in writing. That way, when you get your day in corporate court, you won’t be tempted to start waving arms, pounding fists, and getting all red-faced. By maintaining what I call an incident diary, you’ll be able to present your evidence in a relatively objective, dispassionate manner.

To keep such a diary, open a new Word document and create a table with four columns, like the one shown in Figure A. Then, each time something happens that sends your blood pressure through the roof, open the diary document and enter your notes about the incident.

There are four main benefits to keeping such a document:

  1. You only have to tell your story once.
  2. You’ll be able to hand the diary over to your boss (or to whomever) at the appropriate time.
  3. You’ll feel better getting your feelings out on paper, even if you never share the incident diary with anyone.
  4. As you reread your notes, you might realize that some of the issues aren’t as important as they seemed when you documented them.

Figure A
Maintaining an incident diary like this one helps you keep your complaints in perspective.

When others read the diary
Perhaps the biggest reason to document your grievances is to eliminate guesswork about your meaning. If you rely on the spoken word to air your complaints, your body language and the words you use will be interpreted differently by each person with whom you interact. Each time you present your case verbally, it will be slightly different than the last time you shared it. On the other hand, the written word—while still subject to different interpretations—remains constant.
To share your experiences documenting grievances in the work place, please post a note below or write to Jeff.