Weaponising of the Complaints Process(34 Posts)
What's essential is dealing with reports and complaints of any kind is discerning between a usual, a persistent and a querulant (unusually persistent) complainant.
The persistent complainants’ pursuit of vindication and retribution fits badly with complaints systems established to deliver reparation and compensation. Extract from a report on Unusually Persistent Complainants against the Police in Scotland:
The research on which this report is based arose from my view, shared by many others, that increasingly organisations are required to manage people who make persistent complaints. This small group of individuals can consume a disproportionate amount of an organisation’s resources, pursuing what they believe are legitimate complaints, for longer and with more intensity than the majority of the population would consider reasonable.
The key to managing unacceptable complainant conduct is to manage your own response to it (New South Wales Ombusdman, 2009A) and the importance of adequate training, supervision and managerial support for complaints handlers can not be overstated.
They used the term ‘querulousness’ to refer to a constellation of behaviours and attitudes, which may, or may not, arise secondary to a major mental disorder. The key is that it is a problem behaviour, the causes of which can be many and varied. The behaviour involves “the unusually persistent pursuit of a personal grievance in a manner seriously damaging to the individual’s economic, social, and personal interests, and disruptive to the functioning of the courts and/or other agencies attempting to resolve the claims” (Mullen and Lester, 2006).
The following extract is from the report in NSW referenced in the Scottish one above:
Appendix 1 – A word on unusually persistent complainants (querulants)
Querulance is a psychiatric diagnosis for people who have morbid (illness driven) complaining behaviour. These people are abnormally driven by suspicion and accusations and tend to exhibit extreme kinds of UCC. For example, when compared to a matched control group, querulants have been found to:
•Pursue their complaints for much longer than other complainants.
•Produce far greater volumes of material in support of their case.
•Telephone more frequently and for longer.
•Intrude more frequently without an appointment.
•Continue complaining after their cases have been closed.
•Engage in behaviour that was typically more difficult and intimidating.
•Involve other/external organisations more often including contacting Ministers as their complaints progress.
•Want outcomes that a complaint handling system cannot deliver – eg vindication, retribution and revenge.
The research in this area also indicates that one of the distinguishing features of querulance is an extreme loss of focus over time that results in querulants pursuing multiple complaints at the same time and across a number of organisations as demonstrated in the charts below.
Some examples of inappropriate and unreasonable online conduct by complainants include the following:
•Vulgar and abusive language.
•Targeted, personal and obscene attacks.
•False allegations and lies with the intention to embarrass, humiliate, discredit or portray in a negative light.
•Offensive language and terms inappropriately targeting specific groups or individuals – eg racial slurs.
•Threats or defamatory statements – eg a case officer is corrupt or dishonest (without proof).
•Spamming and sending multiple successive and irrelevant emails or posts.
•Cyber-stalking or cyber-bullying.
•Conducting snide online polls about case officers – eg about their level of competence, etc.
•Posting personal information about case officers including their personal contact details or phone number, name, address, vehicle details etc. – so they can be targeted.
•Suggestions or encouragements to commit illegal activities or crimes.
•Posting inappropriate content/links to disreputable websites.
•Hacking or uploading viruses or other materials that are harmful to an organisation’s website, blog, Facebook page, etc.
•Creating unpleasant websites with rude comments, photos or videos depicting members of an organisation and/or their family members.
•Copyright and trademark infringements.
•Creating fake online profiles to impersonate someone – eg a staff member – or so that they cannot be identified and then engaging in behaviours described above.
Unusually persistent complainants not only seriously disrupt their social and financial functioning but also by threatening and intrusive behaviour frighten and distress those attempting to help them.
These complainants, in addition to seeking compensation and reparation, are in pursuit of personal vindication and retribution, aims incompatible with modern complaints procedures.
The manner in which the persistent claimants pursue their quest for justice and the form in which they express their complaints are clearly separable from the methods used by the vast majority of complainants and show a remarkable similarity to those described in the classic literature as characteristic of the querulous and vexatious.
•a manifestly unreasonable amount of organisational time and resources to be spent dealing with their complaint – eg wants it dealt with by a specific senior officer
•financial compensation that is manifestly inappropriate or unreasonable in the circumstances
•an outcome that is altogether illogical or irrational
•an apology when it is clearly not warranted or the terms of the apology sought are clearly unreasonable
•vindication, revenge or retribution
•their issue pursued based on a matter of ‘principle’ or the public interest, when their interests are clearly personal.
Reaction to news that their complaint will not be taken up, will not be pursued further or an outcome/decision they disagree with – the complainant:
•refuses to accept the decision made/outcome reached in their matter
•reframes their complaint in an attempt to have it taken up again
•provides previously withheld information in an attempt to have their case reopened
•raises a range of minor or technical issues and argues that they somehow invalidate the decision/ outcome of their complaint
•expects a review of the decision/outcome simply because they are dissatisfied with it and without making a clear argument for one
•demands a second review when they have already had the benefit of one
•takes their complaint to other forums alleging bias or corruption on the part of the case handler or organisation, simply because the decision went against them.
Very interesting, thanks for sharing the link.
I have little to add but really wanted to commend you, womanformallyknownas
What a lovely compliment LangCleg - I appreciate being appreciated
As long as it's useful I'll continue. I enjoy giving women different ways of thinking about abuse.
I just wish we had more say in the formulation of the rules and the pitch in the first place…..
This is very interesting. I used to deal with complaints regularly & this description of behaviour matches a lot of the people I came across. Matches a lot of those I've encountered on social media too.
Thanks OP, this is a really useful reference point & I appreciate you flagging this up. 👍
You're welcome Plectrum
@MNHQ this post may be of interest to you too
Thank you, interesting reading and useful resources.
Is it just me or did anyone else not understand a word of that!
This is reminding me of something, i just cannot put my finger on it right now.
You have to work a little for it, pixie, but it is worth it.
I'd never come across the word 'querulant' before.
From WIKI -
In the legal profession and courts, a querulant (from the Latin querulus - "complaining") is a person who obsessively feels wronged, particularly about minor causes of action. In particular the term is used for those who repeatedly petition authorities or pursue legal actions based on manifestly unfounded grounds.
I am properly loving your work. This has given me a flashback to a customer where I worked years ago - he fits the definition to a t, I can still remember his bloody name and profession ("I'm with The Opera", which carried fuck all weight in a call centre on an industrial park in Yorkshire).
Thank you for sharing this, I am in awe of your mind palace.
Good to see you back Weezol You're welcome
Yep this small number of vexatious complainants bog down the Courts, the police, organisations, social services and so on. If we could all get a handle on them and their unreasonableness, and contain them (they don't contain their excessive behaviour) - I think the world would be a better place to live. Their disordered thinking is what is the problem and each agency calls them something different e.g. abusers (DV); rapists & pedophiles (sexual assault centres); swindlers and fraudsters (banks); trolls/cyberstalkers/cyberbullies (online); predators (victims); terrorists (MI5/6); clients (defence lawyers); Satan / Evil (Religions); extreme MRA/TRA/Incels (women) etc .
But they are all the same type, often undiagnosed (their victims end up with mental health labels frequently)…….
I deal with complaints investigation in my current role and have done in a previous role. This is behaviour I recognise. We had one a few months ago that fits the bill. It’s now gone on to a higher department that deals with appeals and they are all “WTF?” about this particular complainant, because we’d found in their favour in the initial investigation and put the measures in place that they’d asked for and they’re still fighting us. Moving the goalposts, of course. 🙄
Also behaviour I recognise from a previous role. A few complainants dominated everyone's time and ridiculous amounts of attention and resources, and two members of staff went off ill with stress in the time I was there - both due to specific, named querulous complainants they were dealing with. A manager took me aside early on when I encountered a client of this type and explained that I needed to realise and accept now that whatever I did, I would never be able to make them happy or satisfied, it was not possible, and with that specific type of person, for my own mental health, not to make that consciously or subconsciously my goal.
The information above would have been grabbed with immense relief by that department, it's quite right. There needs to be a way to recognise people abusing a process and a captive audience to act out their own mental health issues, and a different way of dealing with them that involves demonstrating the following of standard due process and then a very firm disengagement. Essentially as the relationship board has been discussing for years, the only way to end things is to go NC.
people abusing a process and a captive audience to act out their own mental health issues
This is such a neat summary of so much that is going on.
Oh, hey, this behavior sounds awfully familiar and relevant to things we've been discussing recently.
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