For those of you who may not be familiar with the term “kvetching” it is a Yiddish term meaning “to complain.” And a kvetcher is someone who complains a lot. We all do it, perhaps especially us anxious types. For those of us who are more sensitive to the world and its many annoyances, we may end up either keeping our anxiety and stress inside or we may blow a gasket and vent. Kvetching is so popular that there are even entire websites devoted to the fine art of complaining. Although it can feel momentarily relieving to vent to a friend, neighbor, spouse or co-worker, kvetching doesn’t really do much to improve our mental health. In fact if you do it too much you are in danger of ruminating (repeating the same thoughts over and over in your head).
So what is the answer? Assertiveness. This is a word we have all heard before. But how many of us actually put some backbone behind our words and take action? In this post we are going to talk about how to transform kvetching and complaining into problem solving and assertiveness. To illustrate this transformation towards assertiveness I am going to use a recent incident from my own life.
I am a patient with Multiple Sclerosis. I go to a local neurology hospital for my care. Although I love my doctor and all the medical staff, I can’t say the same for the administrative staff. For the past several years after my diagnosis I have put up with phone calls not being returned (even during an emergency), necessary tests not being set up in a timely manner, difficulty scheduling appointments, problems obtaining prescriptions, and rude and even belligerent customer service. Each time I go to this hospital I find yet another reason to seek treatment elsewhere. I have griped with friends and other patients. I have even spoken with my doctor about the inadequacy of the hospital system. My doctor has apologized but things don’t change.
One of the major problems with kvetching is that we quite often do it with people who can’t help us change what is bothering us.
The last time I had a neurology appointment I had my usual wonderful service and care from my doctor. I was having an MS episode at the time. I was feeling dizzy, weak, and was having difficulty speaking and comprehending speech. As soon as my doctor left me to check out I felt vulnerable. The receptionist glared at me, slapped a clipboard in my hand and proceeded to give me instructions with a rapid-fire cadence. Then she looked at my blank expression and yelled, “DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” What I wanted to say was that I had MS but my hearing was not impaired…yet. When I replied with a single word, “no” I could see the woman’s face contort with disgust. I was given the eye roll. Then she proceeded to point to one of the chairs I was to sit in as I filled out the form and she told me as soon as I heard another receptionist say “Next” I was to give my form to her. At this point I was afraid to not do anything this woman said.
So when I heard the cue word of “next” I jumped up and raced over despite the fact that I was not finished with the form. Nobody had been sitting in the check out area when I first came but now there were a few people. The second receptionist glared at me as though I had cut in line. Then she got up to talk to another receptionist to berate me within earshot. “Oh I don’t like that. I hate when people rush up here like they are in a hurry. I will make her wait.” So in my brain fog I sat and waited for this woman to come back for some minutes as she gabbed to another receptionist. When she returned she did set up my testing for an MRI. I said absolutely nothing in my defense. I had limited energy and I didn’t want a fight.
But when I got home my confusion turned to rage about how I had been treated. I kept thinking that this is neurology hospital. There are people there who are very impaired and have a limited capacity to stand up for themselves. Would these administrative assistants speak to their elderly grandmother who might have Alzheimers this way? Maybe they would! I groused to my husband about it. I talked to a friend on the phone who had quit going to this particular hospital for the same reasons. She too had experienced everything I was talking about and more. It felt good to get it out. But I was still angry. I had been putting up with terrible service from this place for years and this time something changed within me.
One of my personal New Year’s resolutions for 2012 is that I am no longer putting up with B.S.
But was this a situation I could change? I had to try.
I went to the hospital’s website. I found the name and email address of the person in charge of customer service. I wrote this person a letter documenting how the poor customer service at their hospital was causing me to rethink whether I need to find a new medical facility. I also pointed out the poor on-line reviews of their hospital on several websites. I commended them on their wonderful doctors and medical staff. But I said that the horrible administration would make it very difficult for me to ever give them a good review or recommend them to my many fellow patients of the neurological associations to which I belong.
I received an almost instantaneous response. My letter would be forwarded to the CEO of the medical facility. I thanked this person and told her that I was hoping that the next time I come in for treatment that I will have a good experience. If not I would be writing to her again with documentation of the specifics of my treatment by administration.
It felt good. I didn’t just vent to friends and family. I did something which will hopefully help not only me but all of the other patients who go to this hospital. A written letter is not as easily dismissed as someone’s verbal conversation.
Again, it bears repeating; the difference between kvetching and assertiveness is that kvetching won’t ever solve the problem. By contrast, being assertive means that you deliver a message or take action with the appropriate people who have the power to change things.
I was proud of myself. It can be very difficult to be assertive especially if you suffer from anxiety and especially social anxiety. You may fear being judged, getting an angry reaction, or being dismissed. To be fair, these reactions may happen. It is a risk you take when being assertive. But in a lot of cases, you are upping the odds for a positive change to occur. And there is something to be said for feeling satisfaction for doing the right thing.
We would love to hear from you now. Do you find that you complain more than you take action to change things in your life? When was the last time you were assertive? How did it feel? Did your assertive actions make a difference even in how you felt about yourself? Tell us your story and join the conversation!
For more information about assertiveness please refer to the following Health Central articles:
Published On: January 22, 2012