In our everyday lives we may have unknowingly come in contact with coworkers, neighbors, family or friends who may fit the description of a grievance collector as defined by FBI agent Joe Navarro in his 2004 book, “Hunting Terrorists: A look at the Psychopathology of Terror”. According to Navarro, grievance collectors are “those persons with the personality traits of collecting social slights, historical grievances or wrongs for reasons that personally benefit them or their belief system”.
I realize we all have had unfair slights in our lives but these individuals collect them like rare coins. We experience these slights and forgive where they will endlessly focus on these wounds.
Another author, Willard Gaylin, psychology professor wrote” Hatred: The Psychological Descent into Violence” in 2003. Gaylin said “he will never endure passively his deprived state; he will occupy himself with accumulating evidence of his misfortunes and locating the sources. They are distrustful and provocative convinced that they are always taken advantage of and given less than their fair share”.
At the heart of the grievance collector is the lack of responsibility for the conundrum of his life: a vast conspiracy of evil individuals and out of control forces to blame.
Vester Flanagan, the shooter from Roanoke Virginia who shot and killed 2 former colleagues on live television is a good example. He had previously threatened co-workers and kept claiming he was a victim. He quickly found ways to excuse his actions and deflect the responsibilities to others. Another example is Christopher Dorner, a former LAPD officer who was terminated after a bad performance review. In 2013, he shot and killed four and wounded three individuals. He had previously filed a complaint against his training officer.
Both individuals use these wrongs to justify their behavior or to help them deal with their own social distress. Additional life stressors such as the loss of a job or spouse may make the grievance collector potentially violent.
In my recent experience, a recent loss was often a trigger for acting out behaviors. Our interdisciplinary team met frequently to meet this challenge. People leaders face many obstacles when confronting an employee such as probing further into an individual’s personal life. Because of this they may fail to recognize the troubling signs. An employee may complain about a pay issue and are quickly refereed to the Payroll office. If another employee is distrustful of coworkers they may fail to discuss issues with their managers and instead go home and speak to their friends and family. If they have a complaint about mistreatment they may send an anonymous email to the CEO or file a lawsuit with the EEOC.
All of these avenues are common places for individuals to communicate their grievances. Yet over time these complaints add up.
Is your company prepared? Building awareness internally with various stakeholders, including your third party vendors is a good place to start. These cases are often complex and require detailed attention and analysis and information must be fairly and accurately addressed. Interventions are successful when they are early and achieve a win-win for all. This requires a clear strategy, patience and a creative plan of action.