Most of us make a complaint when we don’t receive good service or there is negligent behaviour on the part of a professional delivering a service to us or our family.
Organisations tend to respond by looking at their processes and the training of staff to encourage a different way of doing things in the future.
All good and appropriate.
But what if the complainer develops ‘querulous behaviour’ as they seek retribution for an injustice, they perceive has been directed against them?
What if the complainer wants to keep the fight going and is not genuinely motivated to seek a resolution?
Querulous behaviour occurs when someone has an overvalued idea of having been wronged. This dominates their ‘mental life’ and results in behaviour solely directed to the attainment of justice, ‘a win at all costs’ mentality which causes significant problems in the individual’s social and personal life. (1)
This behaviour once had considerable clinical and academic interest in psychiatric literature in the early 20th century but had in the modern era had all but disappeared.
However, in more recent times, the dispute resolution process has grown in popularity, acceptance and formalisation, and there has been an increasing emphasis on the individual and their rights. At the same time, this has created a problem for a small vulnerable group who are querulous by nature and now have an opportunity to have their needs met through the dispute resolution process.
Why do organisations need to manage the querulous?
Because they take up an incredible amount of human capital as those around them try to help them resolve the dispute.
In practice they seek not a successful resolution of their grievance but a continuation of the struggle (2)
So how can we identify those people who are unlikely to want to resolve a dispute?
- Written communication is nearly always characterised by a lengthy number of pages with curious and unusual formatting techniques.
- Multiple methods of emphasis are used e.g. frequent highlighting, frequent use of capitals and overuse of underlining words.
- Content is often rambling with no structure.
- Writing is often in the third person.
- Writing is interspersed with threats to individuals handling the complaint (2).
How do organisations manage those who are not orientated to the resolution of a dispute?
- The querulous complainer needs to be managed differently from other clients that make complaints.
- They need to be identified early in the dispute resolution process.
- They need highly trained professionals who manage boundaries and work towards early closure of the dispute.
- The “Function of their Behaviour” could be analysed to see if there are more appropriate ways to have their needs met.
- Organisations need to be protected from the financial and human costs that the querulous complainer brings to the dispute resolution process and at the same time the querulous complainer needs to be protected from implosion.
(1) School of Forensic Mental Health – United Kingdom
(2) Paul E Mullen and Grant Lester, “Vexatious Litigants and Unusually Persistent Complaints and Petitioners: From Querulous Paranoia to Querulous Behaviour.” Behavioural Sciences and the Law (May 2006)