When part of your job is listening to complaints, it affects you over time. College administrators, especially those who supervise others, are not immune. One dilemma is that complaints can be very constructive, allowing those with responsibility to act as needed, based on new information. On the other hand, all experienced teachers have known colleagues who seem happiest when they are unhappy. How to tell one from the other?
Matt Reed (a community college dean—let's be clear about this up front) provides a nice analysis from his perspective, in Inside Higher Ed.. Please read it, as it is thought-provoking and incisive.
One of his basic observations is that sometimes a complaint about one thing is, deep down, really about something else. He calls it shadow boxing. Obviously addressing this phenomenon may involve pop psychology, interpreted better by qualified clinicians. But we all know that purported symbols can produce false inferences. As Freudians were fond of saying, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."
College faculty want to feel free to express their concerns, and one of the most toxic situations on campus occurs when supervised individuals are afraid to speak up. Inexorably the matter will arise somewhere else, perhaps cloaked in a separate issue. It is always easy to suspect a hidden agenda, known more darkly as a conspiracy. By definition, secrecy is involved. Therefore, a high level of transparency is an important component of effective college governance. This is easier said than done, of course, and some matters must and should remain private.
Shadow boxing likely occurs in other social relationships, such as families and churches, just to name two. So it may be part of the human condition. But it all comes down to communication and the level of trust.
There. That's settled. Whew!