Complainers need management not managers, UCalgary study

The University of Calgary (UofC) study shows people who are “chronic complainers” could be managed by identifying them, which helps cut associated costs and anxiety.

Dr. Amie Liddle, adjunct clinical associate in UCalgary’s Faculty of Nursing, researched chronic complainers’ behaviours in the hope of cutting the costs the Alberta health care system handles, and to find a strategy to eliminate waste.

She calls chronic complaint behaviour “querulous,” where, according to her, it is a pattern of behaviour showing unreasonable persistent pursuit of minor concerns that damages professionals and organizations, despite efforts to resolve the problems.

“Querulous complaint behaviour is disruptive to organizations, damaging to professional reputations, psychologically distressing, and a misuse of human and financial resources,” said Liddle.

She explains warning signs range between threats and demands.

The research shows some of the indications there’s a querulous complainer in the room is someone who might never be satisfied with resolutions, demands to speak to a manager, or threatens to make the issue a public matter.

The research also shows resources can be wasted when the complainer refuses to follow the proposed solutions and insists on escalating the situation.

“One querulous complainant can initiate multiple internal and external reviews simultaneously — overarching legislated review processes, regulatory bodies — and the list goes on and on,” Liddle added.

Solution through ‘Querulous Complaint Assessment Instrument and Process (QCAIP)’

Liddle says the solution — “Querulous Complaint Assessment Instrument and Process (QCAIP) — is through training frontline employees on techniques to recognize and deal with a querulous complainer effectively.

Meanwhile, she explains this process helps workers avoid the emotional and mental toll associated with the behaviour.

“I developed the QCAIP to early-identify querulous behaviour,” Liddle explained.

“The QCAIP is an assessment tool and guide that allows providers to be informed and prepared to navigate the complainant behaviours, and respond to the complaint in an expedited and fair manner” she added.

People can learn about querulous complaints, early identification QCAIP, triggers, and strategies to respond and manage complaints through the Social Innovation Hub.


Liddle says separating legitimate complaints from those of querulous complainers is accurate and straightforward.

“When I teach complaints management I always ask, ‘Despite providing high-quality care and service, have you ever been threatened with ‘the news,’ legal action, given a contrary review, disparaged on social media or complaints to your regulatory body?’” Liddle said.

“If so, you have most likely been exploited by querulous behaviour.“

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