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  • Writer's pictureKarel Costa-Armas

Empathy and Compassion - Listening and Understanding Complainants

Nobody likes to hear complaints. Especially when the complaints come from the same people over and over again. Community Association Managers, and those wonderful folks that deal with the public in any given position, usually get the brunt of the complaints. While one must be keenly aware of any signs that would be an indication of a dangerous confrontation, the professionals handling complaints must be able to understand what is happening with not only the complaint, but with the complainant as well.

As I often hear from managers, receiving repetitive emails and complaints from the same “crazy’ person can be exhausting. I advise managers to level up and take a higher approach to handling the repetitive complainers. Take a different perspective and ask yourself “What is going on with this person?”. Why do they insist on coming to our offices over and over? Is there something more than this complaint that they want to tell us?

In my near twenty-year career in the CAM world, I have dealt with many levels of complaints and complainants. Each one is handled in a procedural manner with certain escalations in place if necessary. The milder ones, the ones that don’t really pose an immediate threat, are usually experiencing one of three issues:

1-       Loneliness (Widowed, Divorced, No Family)

2-       Disconnection (No visitors, No Communication, Negative Family Relationships)

3-       Traumatic Life Experience / PTSD (Loss due to Disease or Accident, Loss of a child, Financial Loss, Betrayal, War)

These three areas affecting people require your empathy and compassion. Most of the time, these folks simply want you to recognize they exist and that their opinions are important. As silly as it may seem, their negative behavior provides them with enough attention to acquire the significance their subconscious desires require. This is where the emotional intelligence of the manager must come into play. This is where management (or other staff) may need to spend some quality time listening to this person. It would mean a lot to the complainant to feel understood.

I am not saying manager MUST do this. I am not telling you to go out and study psychoanalysis. I am simply recommending to you that taking a few minutes with these folks, may save you a lot of grief later. Experienced professionals know the value of taking time with others. It comes more naturally to some. It boils down to caring, listening, and understanding.

This is a topic that applies to many 55+ communities or any time you may encounter an older person that seems just a bit too grumpy for too long. There may be amenities these folks are not aware of. In the past, when helping these folks, I have tried to understand their interests and provide ideas for them to get busy and make friends.

Having said all that, I warn managers to keep a serious awareness of behavioral cues and language that may indicate the complainant wants to do more than just complain. Yes, you should take the procedural steps of writing to the complainant, using the association’s legal counsel, and maybe even calling the police if necessary. But first, your situational awareness needs to be on-point when someone is right in front of you acting erratic. If someone is threatening you or others, that is not the time to be caring or understanding. That is the time to act quickly.

Contact me directly if your association needs a little guidance



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