Bellyachers of Different Flavors

March 27, 2015

How to deal with complainers.

It might be said that dissatisfaction is the primary driver of behavior; rarely is one completely content in every imaginable way. Fortunately, most matters are easily remedied or put out of mind: A glass of water for thirst, perhaps with a couple of ibuprofen for a headache. Changing the channel for boredom at what’s on TV. Or choosing not to dwell on one’s thus-far failure to win the lottery.

Put someone in a situation less easily fixed or escaped, for instance an employed position in a less-than-perfect work environment, and they’re likely to communicate their dissatisfactions to those around them. Commiseration with coworkers, suggestions/demands/pleas to superiors, venting/abuse to subordinates, or griping to outsiders. Specific circumstances and individual variations of style and temperament beget limitless diversity of complainer.

There’s the chronic malcontent, with verbal negativity about everything imaginable, no matter how petty or immutable. The rabble-rouser, ever-willing to rev up an angry mob for much-needed changes, and probably knows where to find torches and pitchforks for them all too…but somehow never visibly leading the charge. The whining sibling, expert at discovering unequal treatment (always slanted against him, of course).

So you’ve got a complainer in your midst. Perhaps you adapt by regarding his griping as a sort of performance art. Or you develop the skill of mentally tuning him out, such that his utterances become easily disregarded white noise. Physical avoidance may be a deterrent-but if a complainer really wants an audience, he’ll find it. If you don’t share a reading room, he’ll come visit yours. If you are in another building, there are always phone calls…and the magic of advancing technology has now made easy for him to pepper you with instant messages.

Such persistence might not be a bad thing for you or the work environment you share. As the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day, and chances are good that someone with the scraps to work alongside you in radiology has even more on the ball than a busted mainspring. In other words, some of these complaints might be worth hearing, especially if the complainer’s ideas about how things should be improved are feasible.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"33562","attributes":{"alt":"Eric Postal, MD","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_199221789734","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"3538","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"float: right;","title":"Eric Postal, MD","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

Some of the less pleasant chronic complainers will never be appeased, even finding ways to gripe after their specific requests have been granted. But a lot of goodwill can be retained and even generated with most folks by just giving them a forum. (One that’s visibly given attention, as opposed to a “suggestion box” on the wall that may or may not ever get emptied.) Dedicated times during group meetings, for instance, rather than the nebulous “any other issues?” minute that occurs after everybody in the room has long since fallen asleep or gotten antsy to leave after an hour of hearing humdrum committee reports.

Larger groups might even appoint someone to be a go-to guy for complainers, someone otherwise without executive-type responsibility or authority. Call him an ombudsman if you want to be formal about it. vRad recently took this approach by recruiting “practice representatives” from its pool of radiologists (a rather large pool, so several were included). Some might be cynical about such initiatives; after all, many have had occasion to work in places where there is more effort given to squelching dissent rather than hearing it, and certainly as opposed to inviting it for public display.

Still, having experienced such in the past, if nothing else, it came across to me as a refreshingly different philosophy, and I was happy to become one of the first year’s reps. I suppose this makes me something of a professional complainer-perhaps some longer-term readers of this column would say that’s nothing new.