Someone is Going to Get Hurt or Killed, and There’s Going to be a Lawsuit
By Jonathan T. Jefferson
“The sky is falling the sky is falling.” Maybe it’s my position as a School District Director that makes me feel like I am being chased by Chicken Little every day. I look in the mirror frequently to make sure that I am not inadvertently wearing a sign that reads “PLACE COMPLAINTS HERE.” My guess is that others in positions of leadership experience similar issues.
When I was a beginning teacher, a veteran teacher once told me that if I wanted to get something done right away, I should say that it’s a safety issue. I never acted on that advice, because Aesop’s fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, made more sense to me. If everything is an emergency, than nothing is an emergency. This basic tenet has not been learned by many who report to me. Instead of simply requesting something new because it would be more efficient, easier to use, and/or aesthetically pleasing, the additional implications that there’s going to be a lawsuit if the improvement is not made is often stated for added measure.
This article is not my version of an elaborate complaint. There are serious health implications associated with complaining. I will share these risks along with methods to avoid them. In addition, those like me who are looked upon as billboards for complaints will learn new methods to deal with them.
In the article by Dr. Travis Bradberry, How Complaining Rewrites Your Brain for Negativity, research was shared that should give chronic complainers cause for pause.
“When you repeat a behavior, such as complaining, your neurons branch
out to each other to ease the flow of information. This makes it much easier to repeat that behavior in the future-so easy, in fact, that you might not even realize you’re doing it.” - Travis Bradberry, Ph.D.
Bradberry also shared research from Stanford University that showed “…complaining shrinks the hippocampus-an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought.” Furthermore, according to Bradberry, “…complaining impairs your immune system and makes you more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It even makes the brain more vulnerable to strokes.” These are scary facts!
Bradberry suggests replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, instead of being pessimistic, be optimistic. In time, accentuating the positive will become the norm. For example, a bulk of the physical education equipment at one of my schools went missing. I informed the teachers that new equipment would be ordered, but for now, borrow from another school within the district. One of my teachers immediately complained that another school would not have the size ball that he prefers, and that someone could be hurt or killed if the wrong sized ball were used. This was of course a grossly exaggerated complaint. Thinking optimistically, the teacher could have been delighted at the fact that his school would be getting all new equipment, and temporarily being without any equipment could lead to the implementation of creative new activities. If a concern needs to be aired, Bradberry suggests solution-oriented complaining; have a clear purpose, start with something positive, be specific, and end on a positive.
Dealing with chronic complainers can be exhausting. I found myself walking away from the onslaught of complaints as deftly as possible. Before I understood the structural impact that complaining has on an individual’s brain, I would be inclined to take their extreme exaggerations to heart. Does this person think I’m an idiot? Don’t they know that I know they didn’t attend law school? Why do they always bring bogus liability claims into their complaint? In a Psychology Today article by Dr. Guy Winch titled How to Deal with Chronic Complainers, he stated that “Chronic complainers’ perceptions about their hardships are deeply embedded in their personalities and sense of identity.”
Everyone needs to know their strengths in order to handle complainers smoothly. Fact based humor has become my go to strategy. Last summer I stood in a gymnasium with three of my physical education teachers, one of them requested a series of permanent holes be installed in the floor for volleyball standards. I saw the benefit of not having to roll the current heavy pole and base systems out, but each of the teachers immediately raised concerns that our current pole and base system could fall on someone. I looked at each of them, and stated that our current combined years in education totaled approximately 100 years. During those years, not one student ever had a volleyball pole fall on them. They laughed at themselves when they saw how unnecessary their exaggerated liability comments were.
When a complaint is indirect, but false, I choose to respond indirectly. During a recent staff development workshop, one of my teachers said to our guest lecturer that our school district’s technology department is awful. The teacher did not acknowledge that the technology department loaded 30 iPads with dozens of applications specifically for our workshop. In addition, our guest lecturer had just benefited from their assistance in setting up her new iPad Air to work with the classroom’s projector and screen. Sadly, this same complainer ignored the years of videotaping that technology department personnel faithfully completed for her when she coached. My indirect response was to publicly thank the technology department for their efforts in assisting us to have an excellent professional development experience.
To chronic complainers I say this: The sky has never fallen, and life or death issues rarely present themselves in the world of education. Do your health a favor, and chose to be an optimist. To those leaders out there who are bombarded with complaints, know this: It’s not a personal attack on you, but a complainer’s brain wiring that contributes to their exaggerations. Know your strengths, and apply the strategies that work best for you in dealing with complainers.