How to Spot and Avoid Chronic Dissatisfaction
Dissatisfaction in reasonable doses motivates improvement.
Chronic dissatisfaction contaminates environments and teams.
The chronically dissatisfied shrink the future with complaint and criticism.
Chronically dissatisfied people:
#1. Need you to make them happy.
The chronically dissatisfied believe others are responsible for their happiness.
The habitually dissatisfied believe happiness is outside-in. But, if you met expectations, they wouldn’t be satisfied for long.
Tip: Appeasing chronic dissatisfaction in others is a fool’s errand. You may meet expectation occasionally, but recurring dissatisfaction is more about what’s in us than what’s around us.
#2. Expect others to change but seldom change themselves.
The chronically dissatisfied become manipulators. They bully, complain, criticize, and spread dissatisfaction to pressure others into conformity.
Tip: Clarify their expectations and ask, “If your expectations are met, will you be happy?”
#3. Affirm themselves and criticize others.
The chronically dissatisfied are stingy with affirmation and generous with criticism and complaint.
I can think of people I’ve known for years who seldom speak a sincere word of affirmation to me or to anyone within my hearing. (Occasionally they offer affirmation followed by large doses of criticism.)
Tip: Listen for the “but” when receiving an affirmation from the chronically dissatisfied.
Tip: Avoid the chronically dissatisfied if possible.
#4. Become more dissatisfied with time.
The chronically dissatisfied habitually seek confirmation for their dissatisfaction.
Chronic dissatisfaction – like fire – consumes what it touches.
Tip: Don’t expect them to change. Dissatisfied people expect YOU to change. They use dissatisfaction to bully people into compliance.
Ask prospective hires to list the strengths and achievements of everyone on their previous team, including higher ups. Watch their energy as they speak. Do they light up? Or does affirming others seem like chewing gravel?
Added question: Could you give me an example of an affirmation you gave someone on your previous team?
What practices of the chronically dissatisfied do you see?
How might leaders identify and reject the chronically dissatisfied during hiring?
10 Troubling Habits of Chronically Unhappy People (Huffpost)
6 Best Practices for Managing Unhappy Employees (Entrepreneur)
Understanding Your Chronic Dissatisfaction (drdebracampell)
The negativity of the terminally unhappy is contagious, or will at least elicit powerful emotional reactions in folk … leaders included! Remain curious. What has shaped this person’s personality? How can I challenge them to take ownership? And how can I protect the team and organisational mission? The lack of insight make challenging this ‘dark matter’. Empathy is a powerful tool for survival. What if I were in their shoes carrying their suite of developmental experiences? What would I need to challenge my thinking?
Thanks for your insights, tooarbie. The idea of curiosity speaks to me. If there is a universal response that leaders can employ I think it’s curiosity. There is too much KNOWING in organizations today.
This is a super piece, Dan. What I think is slightly unnerving is the fact that is sounds like a description of most of the supporters of the continuous improvement/lean/six-sigma dogma.
Another possible angle is those systems where you have a revolving door of people hit by chronic dissatisfaction: you take somebody on, they become dissatisfied, they leave, you replace them, they become dissatisfied, they leave, you replace them…
Thanks Mitch. I wrote a bit about the difference between the pursuit of excellence and the problem of chronic dissatisfaction. There wasn’t room to leave it in for today. However, I think there is a connection between dissatisfaction and the pursuit of excellence.
The other thing that comes to mind is research shows that people who point out what’s wrong seem smarter to us. Even though they might not resolve an issue, pointing it out makes others think we are smart.
Ohhh, Dan, can’t wait to see those thoughts … the most obvious distinction is “in the pursuit of,” the expectations … the dissatisfied “confirming” their negative bias with present trending, while the affirming still “working” the strategy to its best intent.The most intense usually wins.
As a Chronic Affirmer, always looking for and supporting the essentially best in those I work with, a few observations:
How is it that so many of the least satisfied end up in the C-suite? Enough is never enough … Their secret to “success.” Alot of lawyers and politicians, too.
The fire analogy is apt … They are fire-starters, then step back to see how big/bad it gets, then once the work is done (and EVERYONE is dissatisfied), come back in and reclaim what remains for themselves with “lessons learned” and their “new” agenda going forward (same deal, different rules – create the next crisis to be the one to resolve it).
I’ve likened the phenomena to a black hole … you can’t see it, but it gravitationally draws us in and if we don’t see the light around us starting to disappear, we too can be drawn across the event horizon from which their is no way out; all the energy and light has gone. To where? Oh, wait, who was the one holding back when they told all to move on?
Chronic dissatisfaction can be cultivated (it’s not an inherent condition or permanent character flaw);
it’s up to leadership to ensure that essential issues are, in fact, resolved; not just addressed.
And to ensure that we are not our own enemy marching across the event horizon.
Thanks for you insights, Rurbane. I wonder if an 80/20 ration is feasible. 20% of our time in dissatisfaction and 80% in resolution?
BTW…thanks for the use of resolved over addressed. Resolved has greater clarity.
In the sense that “simplicity is the RESOLUTION of the complexity,”
(not its starting point, i.e. KISS)
a resolution of integrity (the whole/solution being greater than the sum of the parts/issues)
is sustainable over time –
and almost always transcends the previous comprehension (e.g. a paradigm shift in science),
making what was complex now clear, and simple to see (e.g. epiphany).
Time spent (healthfully) seems to have to do with both duration and intensity.
Chronic (experienced consistently over a long period of time) may be low in intensity (and thus merely irritating (i.e. an indicator something’s wrong) and tolerable, or
Acute (experienced intensely over a short period of time) may be short in duration (that’s why we should count to ten when we get a negative emotion before we speak or act – the feeling may pass) and relatively inconsequential, but has to be noted and dealt with directly on the spot.
When a Chronic intensifies, it is far more likely to influence all those around and spread virally.
A Chronic who goes Acute can destroy everything and everyone around.
Thus, the energy and time we apply to dissatisfaction is relative to its ebb and flow … the chronic is usually a curiosity that should be explored (over time), but not suppressed so much; the acute is usually an anomaly that should be of immediate concern, and remedied asap.
What practices of the chronically dissatisfied do you see? Those people always seem to never have a smile as if their whole world is a living hell. Something in them speaks of longing but they can’t pinpoint what they long for. I’ve also found them lacking confidence and spark in their lives. It’s so sad to live a life that way, angry, unhappy, not confident and with a smile seldom seen.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Roger. The idea that it’s useful to clarify what you really WANT has become so valuable and useful to me. It’s interesting that we can easily explain what we don’t want, but explaining what we WANT – in actionable language – takes time, reflection, and work.
Dan, this is so excellent. As a pastor I have had such persons in my congregation. They do sap the energy of the group and can pollute the atmosphere for others. But what if I am the one who is chronically dissatisfied? What’s the antidote? Cultivating gratitude for sure. Anything else?
The best antidote for dissatisfaction, your own and Others’ – is compassion – “true” compassion, methinks.
“No true compassion without will; no true will without compassion.”
John Knowles in “Daniel Martin”
I trust this is well in line with (Christian) scripture.
Talking of art (in On Moral Fiction, late seventies?), John Gardner expressed what I, as a designer have lived by spiritually since reading it in architectural school:
“… morality… is far less a matter of doctrine than process.”
Struggle with (be compassionate), not for
(don’t worry about empathy / projecting yourself into their shoes).
As a designer (and developer),
I help people solve their own problems. I don’t do it for them.
And I sleep fine if I fall short,
because they are still closer than they would have gotten otherwise;
And I sleep better when they succeed,
because they took ownership and believe they did it themselves.
Teach them to fish rather than just feed them once or twice a week – and all that –
they are bound to need another meal soon, and we may not still be around.
Thanks Pete. You bring to mind the source of dissatisfaction.
Gratitude practice makes sense as a response to chronic dissatisfaction. As a dissatisfied person myself, sometimes I struggle with my list of five things to be grateful for. (I’m embarrassed to acknowledge it.)
Sometimes my dissatisfaction with others is an expression of dissatisfaction with me. I’m learning that the more I celebrate my strengths/gifts and accept my frailties the better I am at doing the same with others.
I wonder if celebrate a success might be useful. (Or celebrating imperfect progress might be useful.)
I begin most meetings by asking, Where are we winning? It’s good to honor imperfect wins, even if there are a million other things to do.
I’m thankful for your comment.
ps…Rurbanes suggestion of compassion seems applicable. Perhaps a little self-compassion is in order.
Dan, this is why I’m about to bail on my current position. I’ve never worked for a more dissatisfied jerk than I do now. I may be taking a lateral move but it is soul sucking to be around this type of person. Thank you for stating what I’m feeling
By the way, the hiring question is pure genious!