How to Express Disappointment Professionally

An authoritative guide to expressing your feelings in a business environment

As much as we wish we could avoid it, conflict happens, even (and especially) in the workplace and other professional settings. But when your coworker, boss, or a company does something to disappoint you, how do you voice that disappointment? You don’t want to stir up drama, but you need to say something, right? The key is a level head and a diplomatic tone. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to expressing your disappointment and finding resolution via email, in person, and in a formal letter of complaint. Take a deep breath, and remember: you deserve to have your concerns heard.

[Edit]Things You Should Know

  • Draft emails and letters with a respectful tone. State your complaint clearly and support your stance in the body of the text and with relevant documents.
  • Avoid angry or sarcastic language. Include your contact information and a request to provide more information or reach out to you with questions.
  • Speak with someone privately and in-person if you want your words off the record. Open with polite pleasantries and speak about your complaint calmly.


[Edit]Sending a Professional Email

  1. Use email to express disappointment about a work-related issue. If you’re expressing disappointment with a boss or coworker, email is a great way to voice your concern in a low-intensity format, while also keeping a digital record in the event that future problems occur. You could also send a courteous reply if you’re turned down for a job opportunity, which might increase your chances with the recruiter in the future.[1]
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    • An email is also a good way to communicate your disappointment to your boss if they denied a request for something like a vacation or an idea that you suggested.
  2. Write a short and direct subject line for your email. Be concise and clearly indicate what the email is about in the subject line. Avoid using a long sentence or rude language in order to make your email appear more professional. Clear and direct communication helps your recipient take your message more seriously. [2]
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    • For instance, if you’re writing an email to a coworker about a missed deadline, you could include a subject line that looks like, “Missed Shipping Deadline.”
    • Other possible subject lines include: “Denied Vacation Days,” “Salary Inquiry,” “Workplace Conflict,” or “Question about Policies.”
  3. Set the tone with a professional greeting. This will make it clear from the start that your message is professional in nature, and should be treated as such. Choose a greeting that is appropriate for your relationship with the person. For instance, if you’re on a first-name basis with a manager named Matthew Smith, you could start your email like, “Dear Matt.” For a more formal relationship, stick to “Dear Matthew” or “Dear Mr. Smith.”[3]
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    • If you have a very open and casual relationship with the recipient, you could say something like, “Hey Matt.”
    • If you’re writing an email to someone that you’ve never met, or if you’re unsure about exactly who will be reading the email, start with, “To whom it may concern.”
    • For group emails with multiple recipients that you want to address, simply say, “All,” or, “Hello all.”
  4. Add a short pleasantry to keep the email friendly. Make the first line of your email a short aside or pleasant exchange that shows that you’re friendly but professional–you have concerns, but you’re not looking to pick a fight. Keep it brief and don’t go over 2 or 3 lines of small talk before you get to the meat of your email.[4]
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    • Try starting with something like, “I hope you’re doing well,” or “I hope this email finds you well.”
    • If your relationship with the recipient is casual, you could mention a personal detail such as, “I hope you had a great time at the concert last weekend,” or, “I had a nice time talking with you at the company party last week.”
  5. State your disappointment clearly in the body of the email.[5] Tell them clearly how you feel, and be sure to include how it affects you—maybe the cause for your disappointment makes you uncomfortable, or sets a poor standard of workplace conduct, or impacts productivity. Summarize your complaints and keep the body of your email to 1 paragraph if possible, so the email is focused on the subject at hand. You can expand on your complaints in later communications, if need be.[6]
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    • For example, if you were turned down for a potential job, you could say something like, “I’m sorry to hear that you decided to go in a different direction. I was looking forward to the opportunity, so I’m disappointed in the decision to hire somebody else.”
    • If you’re writing to a coworker or employee to express your disappointment, you could say something like, “It’s come to my attention that certain policies and procedures haven’t been followed properly. The policies exist to keep us all safe, so it’s disappointing to learn that they’ve been ignored.”
  6. Keep your language and tone respectful throughout the email. Use formal and polite language to clearly convey your disappointment without making the recipient feel like you’re personally attacking them.[7] Avoid curses or expletives, which can alienate someone who’s in a position to change things. Craft your writing to be an accurate representation of yourself and your values.[8]
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    • If you’re emailing an employee or a manager, it’s possible your email may be shared with other people, so it’s important that your writing reflects well on yourself as a person and an employee.
    • For instance, instead of saying something like, “I don’t understand what your problem is with the procedures,” say something like, “As we’ve previously discussed, the procedures are designed to keep everyone on the same page, so they should be followed by everyone.”
  7. Conclude your email on a positive note and suggest a path forward. Wrap up your email by including actionable information such as setting up a follow-up meeting or inviting the recipient to come to you if they have any questions. Include the steps or actions you’d like to be taken to resolve the situation. Finally, speak well of the person with whom you have an issue, to make it clear you’re not berating them or singling them out, only that you’re concerned.[9]
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    • For example, you could say to your interviewer, “I’m thankful for the opportunity to interview with your company. Please let me know if something opens up in the future!”
    • If you’re writing to an employee or coworker, try something like, “I know you’ve been working really hard on this, I just wanted to bring the issues that I’m having to your attention so we can keep an eye out for any future potential problems.”
    • Alternatively, say something like, “I know you may not have meant to come off that way, but I hope we can address and be mindful of how we use sensitive language in the office.”
  8. Read the email out loud before you send it to hear how it sounds. Take a moment to read your entire email out loud so you can hear the tone of your writing and proofread for any spelling or grammatical errors. If your tone is too soft or too harsh, adjust the language so it’s professional but firm. When you’re satisfied with it, send it off to the recipient.[10]
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    • You could also have a trusted friend or coworker read over your email before you send it to make sure it’s cordial and reasonable.
    • Spelling or grammatical errors can distract from or lessen the impact of your email, so take your time proofreading your writing.

[Edit]Writing a Formal Complaint Letter

  1. Send a letter to a company or if you haven’t been able to get a response. If you’re disappointed with a product or the behavior of a company, writing a formal letter detailing your complaint is the most professional way to communicate with them. If you haven’t been able to get in touch with someone through any other means, use a formal letter as a last resort to express your disappointment and detail your issues.[11]
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    • You can also use a letter as a last attempt to prove that you tried to contact someone to discuss your problem with them, before you take further legal action.
  2. State your issue clearly in the first sentence. You don’t need to mince words when corresponding with a company. Be direct and concise, and state your problem or complaint clearly and professionally to set the tone for your entire letter.[12]
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    • For example, if you’re writing to a company to complain about a policy that affected you, you could start with, “I write to express my frustration and disappointment with your company’s return policy.”
    • If you’re writing a letter to someone you haven’t been able to reach, try starting with something like, “I’m writing this letter in regards to your failure to respond to my questions about my security deposit after being unable to reach you by phone or email.”
  3. Use the body of your letter to add details and information related to your issue. Once you’ve stated your disappointment and issue, use the rest of your letter to add specific details and information to expand your letter and explain your frustration. Mention any steps you’ve taken to resolve your issue as well as efforts you’ve made to reach out to them for assistance.[13]
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  4. Avoid angry, sarcastic, or threatening language in your letter. Throughout your letter, keep your language and tone formal and professional. Never use profanity or threatening language and avoid sarcasm so that your writing appears as professional as possible.[14]
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    • If you ever have to produce your letter for a court case, you want to make yourself look as professional as you can.
    • Often, your complaints are read by a customer service representative or an employee with little personal stake in the issue. Keeping a composed, cordial tone can make them more willing to offer their help.
  5. Include copies of any documents relevant to your complaint. If you have pictures, contracts, or any other documents that back up or prove your claims, make a copy of them and attach them to your letter. Make sure you reference them in your letter to add even more validity to any claims that you make.[15]
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    • For example, in your letter you could say something like, “I’ve attached pictures of what the finished product looked like, which as you can see, is far from satisfactory.”
    • Also include things like, “I’ve attached the receipt and warranty information to this email, which clearly state that I’m entitled to…”
  6. Add your contact information after your conclusion. End your letter with a paragraph that summarizes your main concerns and the actions you’d like taken to resolve them. If you want the person or company to get in touch with you to try to fix the problem or discuss the matter further, be sure to include your contact information like phone number or email address at the bottom.[16]
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    • Sign the letter with a formal closing such as, “Yours truly,” “Sincerely,” or “Respectfully” followed by your name.
    • For product issues, say something like, “I’d like a full refund or replacement.”
    • For other issues, consider something like, “I’d appreciate your immediate help and communication in resolving this issue.”
  7. Send the letter using certified mail so it has to be signed for. Use certified mail or a letter delivery option that requires the recipient to sign for it so you have proof that it was received. Keep the receipt in case you ever need to prove that you wrote them a letter or provide it for a court case.[17]
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[Edit]Voicing a Complaint In-Person

  1. Talk to someone directly for interpersonal or time-sensitive matters. An in-person conversation is preferable in situations that require a more immediate response, like resolving interpersonal conflicts at work or something that could affect your career. Additionally, a direct conversation with someone allows you to gauge their reactions and adds a more personal touch.[18]
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    • Talking to someone allows you to use your own body language and tone of voice to really convey your frustration or disappointment.
    • If you need to, think about and rehearse what you’ll say ahead of time.
  2. Ask the person to meet with you privately to discuss the issue. Talk to the person away from other people so you’re able to express yourself freely without the pressure or distraction of an audience.[19] Schedule a meeting or ask them to meet you somewhere like a conference room, office, or even a coffee shop so it’s more professional.[20]
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    • Give them a call or send them an email to ask them what time and place is best for them.
    • If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot state your disappointment privately, try to remain as professional as you can and keep your composure in check.[21]
  3. Thank them for speaking with you and ask them if this is a good time. Take a moment to ask them how they’re doing and if they’re prepared to talk with you about the issue. If they seem angry or agitated, assure them that you want to keep things agreeable or wait to speak with them later. If both of you are collected, then go ahead and start discussing your problem or issue.[22]
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    • Begin with something like, “Are you comfortable talking about this right now?” If they’re not, either reschedule, fall back to an email, or seek help from a superior.
    • Gauge their mood, and make it clear you want a civil discussion, not a confrontation. For example: “I hope we can work together to resolve this.”
    • You could also say, “Thanks so much for your time. I won’t take too long, I just really need to discuss something with you.”
  4. State your complaint clearly and directly. Tell the person why you’re disappointed using specific and unemotional language. Be direct and objective and explain why you’re dissatisfied and how you’ve been affected. Use calm, professional language to convey your feelings and avoid raising your voice or using profanities. Speak primarily in “I” statements that place focus on yourself and how you feel in order to avoid antagonizing the other person.[23]
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    • For example: “I’m concerned and hurt by how things occurred last week.”
    • Avoid berating language, or language that places undue blame. Make it clear you want a solution, rather than a conflict. For example: “I appreciate your willingness to work through this with me.”
    • Tell them how you feel using practical, objective language. You could say something like, “When something like this happens, it makes me feel hurt and disappointed."
  5. Communicate your desired resolution. A complaint or discussion is much more productive when you come prepared with possible solutions.[24] Be sure to include how you’ll contribute to the solution yourself, and stress that the solution is collaborative and cooperative.[25]
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    • For example, say something like, “I’d like to work with you to organize workplace sensitivity training.”
    • Other possible solutions include things like, “I hope we can discuss a possible salary increase in the future,” “Can we consider moving me to a different area of the office to prevent further conflict?” or, “How will management handle this sort of situation in the future?”
  6. Thank them and ask if they have any questions before you part ways. Express your genuine thanks for their time. Ask them if they have any questions for you or if they’re unclear about anything, or if they have any thoughts on the situation, and be sure to listen seriously and intently. Afterward, thank them again for meeting with you before you end the conversation.[26]
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    • “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. I know we’ll be able to resolve this.”
    • “Your cooperation here means a lot to me.”


  • Never type up an email, write a letter, or have a conversation while you’re angry. Take a few breaths to calm yourself down before you begin so you have a clear head.
  • Avoid having a conversation with someone in front of other people. Wait until they’re available to talk and meet with them in private.
  • Consult legal counsel for serious matters that could put your career or personal well-being at risk.


  • Don’t raise your voice or use profanities when you’re speaking to a coworker or manager or you could come off as threatening and aggressive.


  5. [v161874_b01]. 19 July 2021
  7. [v161874_b01]. 19 July 2021
  19. [v161874_b01]. 19 July 2021
  21. [v161874_b01]. 19 July 2021
  25. [v161874_b01]. 19 July 2021