Avoiding the Complaint Trap and Council Negativity

Written by Tiffany Fearon, Client Services Manager

Cultivating and maintaining an effective Family Council requires both energy and effort. Families who visit loved ones regularly in long-term care are often juggling many responsibilities; making it important for them to spend their time wisely. When they choose to join their homes Family Council, having a positive outlet for peer support and dialogue is imperative to encourage participation and engagement. Family Council meetings are a great forum for members to share experiences, discuss collective concerns, and brainstorm innovative ideas to improve their home communities. It is realistic for issues and concerns on home improvement to arise from time to time. Avoiding what we call the “complaint trap” is essential for Family Councils to see long term membership and commitment from its members.

Getting caught in the complaint trap, where there is more griping than active problem solving can have a negative impact in the following ways:

Low Membership/Low Attendance: Negativity can have a serious impact on both membership and attendance. When negativity swarms a meeting, individuals may feel less inclined to attend and be committed to group initiatives. Potential new members may also feel deterred to continue attending if they observe a meeting filled with complaints. Family Councils filled with peer support and goal oriented mindsets will attract families and keep them engaged.

Derailed Meetings: We’ve heard it before – meetings often get derailed due to long-winded tangents and complaining and sadly never get back on track. As mentioned earlier, families often have to divide their time wisely. If a Family Council is scheduled for a certain amount of time, it is imperative for complaint sessions to be minimal so that all agenda items can be covered.

Negative Impact on Collaborative Relationships: Individuals outside of the Family Council such as home staff and Administration can develop perceptions based on interactions with its members. Family Councils that nurture relationship with external allies with effective and assertive communication instead of complaints are more likely to welcomed collaboration. As the old saying goes, “you can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar”.

Here are a few practices Family Councils can implement to avoid the “Complaint Trap”:

Start and end with positivity: Meetings that start and end with positivity often help to eliminate the occurrence of the “complaint trap”. Having each member share something positive that happened to them or information on how their week has been creates room for more dialogue and the growth of friendships.

Add a roundtable discussion to the meeting agenda: We all need to vent sometimes so why not allot a certain amount of time for members to share their frustrations? A best practice for Family Council agenda setting is to include a block of time where members can openly discuss issues and concerns. Not only does this provide the opportunity for individuals to feel heard, but it keeps things organized and timely.

Remind members of expectations: If it feels like Family Councils meetings are getting off to a rocky start with ongoing complaints, communicate a reminder to members of the mission and objective of a highly functioning Council. While it’s important to hear concerns and challenges, it’s important to look at what is also working well and make improvements along the way.

Words have power. Let’s make an extra effort to avoid the “complaint trap” and choose our words, sentiments, and expressions wisely!