Is Asking for Change a Cry for Help?

A look at why people really complain

By Michael S. Parker, MD

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Is asking for change a cry for help? Why do people complain? To be heard.

A complaint is our vocalization of an underlying emotional, physical, psychological or spiritual need that is lacking or to a perceived injustice. These complaints may come from a sense of helplessness or oppression.

Reactions to complaints vary:

  • Listening and allowing people to “vent” their uneasiness
  • Become compadres in the struggle
  • Offer solutions (mentoring)
  • Coaching

So what to do?

For many, listening may be all it takes to help. Solidarity in the struggle helps the person feel supported and validates some of their claims but does nothing to solve the problem. Providing solutions can resolve current issues but misses the opportunity to teach and develop tools to address future challenges or feel empowered to change their circumstances. The most effective approach is to have the heart of a coach.

Coaches employ active listening to recognize underlying needs and emotion. Empowering questions that begin with “How,” What” and “Can you tell me more” help uncover the underlying concerns or perceived injustice. These questions probe deeper into the issues to develop clarification of desired outcomes and goals. A path forward can be seen, contingencies conceived, and steps are taken to overcome obstacles to a more fully engaged life. This process leads to the development of new and innovative ideas about how to practice medicine.

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More than one person complaining about something may be a sign of an underlying process or structural flaw in the system. Changing the perspective on the comments and concerns from our Women’s Health Institute retreat last year shed new light on the problem of caregiver engagement. What were you trying to tell us? You need autonomy, flexibility and respect. Time to recharge, reconnect and engage. Most of all, you needed help.

When needs collide

Medicine is art now run like a business. The underlying desire of physicians is to make connections with patients, use skills developed through years of training, and provide this care with the highest level of quality. All while trying to be the spouse, partner, parent, friend, adventurer and creative spirit that brings completeness to our endeavors. These natural needs collide with the business model that looks for efficiency, productivity and profit.

Thus we complain.

Cleveland Clinic is a world leader in healthcare, driving new treatments and innovations that improve and save lives. The success of Cleveland Clinic’s story is born out of hearing and listening to complaints from patients. By asking “How?,” “What?” and “tell me more,” solutions emerged that are beyond what was thought possible.

Now, it’s time to look in the mirror. Too many times when listening to caregivers concerns and feelings on work, the conversation ends with a sense of helplessness. As thought leaders in providing healthcare, ask “how” and “what” questions of our caregivers. Creative ideas and alternative solutions will emerge that propel us forward to become the leader in workplace engagement and caregiver well-being.

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Adjusting to the new normal

The business model is now the new normal. So how does an institute or enterprise adapt? It will take “out-of-the-box thinking” to apply business practices and principles of productivity and efficiency to the office setting. Current methods need to be questioned to identify cutting-edge solutions. There must be a willingness to implement innovative practice models. Failures are the first form of feedback. Successes need to be shared and celebrated.

The complaint of those on the front line is a cry for help, and also opportunity to learn and create new ideas for positive change.

Hear things differently.