Happy Halloween! Tonight there will be a whole host of characters on display trick-or-treating across the country. Some will be scary, some funny, and others just plain ridiculous.
Of course, for those of us in education, we can get much of the same in the cast of characters we deal with on a daily basis. And it’s not just the students! Students can be annoying, yes, but we tend to expect that when we sign up for the job of educating young people. What’s truly difficult sometimes is dealing with the “characters” that are on staff with us!
So here’s my first installment of an ongoing series entitled “The Rogues’ Gallery.” Consider this an administrator’s guide to dealing with the staff members who try our patience the most!
Education World does a nice job breaking down one of the classic types – The Complainer.
Astute administrators can distinguish between individuals in temporary rough spots and those in a permanent rut.
Dr. Mike Weber, superintendent of the Port Washington-Saukville (Wisconsin) School District, has classified three types of “complainers.”
- The “helpful complainer” has a specific gripe about an issue, but offers constructive feedback that could resolve the problem.
- A “therapeutic complainer” is experiencing a temporary setback and draws out a confidante to vent frustrations, rather than liberally spreading doom and gloom.
- The “malcontent complainer” is the one to watch out for, warned Weber. “They have ongoing, persistent problems with many issues, but offer no constructive suggestions. They are energy drainers,” he stressed.
Statler and Waldorf are the third category of complainers. They never have anything positive to say! Everytime you exhaust yourself to put on a good show, and inevitably you look up to the balcony and you hear the criticism. “Just once, can’t they either say something supportive, or nothing at all?” So we might wonder, but it never goes that way, does it? Of course not.
This is when we need to remember what Weber suggests in the reviewed article:
Learn about the psychology of negativism. Negative people are using their attitude to control you and obtain something. Each time you or your staff membets get pulled into a negative downward spiral, negativism is reinforced and it intensifies. Negative people continue their negative habits so long as they are getting their desired control and reactions from others. Negative people are much like children in that they will get attention one way or another. If children do not get positive attention, they will misbehave, resulting in negative attention, because negative attention is better than no attention at all.
The psychology of negativism can be very insightful! Remember that even though they criticize, Statler and Waldorf are still there at the show every night. They never miss! If the show was that awful, wouldn’t they stop attending?
Obviously even the Statlers and Waldorfs on our staff are invested in what happens there, and the trick is to identify the real problem. They want your attention, clearly, or else they wouldn’t be complaining. Have you been accessible enough as an administrator? Are there ways that you can make the complainers feel as though their feedback is appreciated – even when it drives you crazy?
Weber suggests that most malcontents have fallen into behavioral patterns that can be easily disrupted with a positive approach – precisely because it is the last thing they are expecting! Statler and Waldorf are used to catcalls and confrontations – that won’t work because they’ve protected themselves too much in their balcony to let a negative reaction both them. Don’t fall for the bait! React positively, and reframe the narrative in a way that forces the complainers to take action and choose. And then stick to it! Eventually they’ll either get down off that balcony and join you on the stage, or they’ll get the message and quiet down (or leave). Stay positive and stay focused on the students! If you show the complainers that you are the one with the metaphorical candy, then you get to be the one who puts it on them if it’s going to be a Trick-or-Treat!