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Carol has been a volunteer for a couple of years. She has a caustic personality and  her entrance into a conversation usually starts with a critique. Carol is tolerable at best. She really doesn’t cross the line far enough to fire, and perhaps by design, never really interacts with patients or family members.

Carol does, however, interact with other volunteers. She serves with a large group of volunteers who work on projects.

Not too long ago, a volunteer, Sheri came up to me and started to complain about not getting supplies needed, not having a lot of support from staff and not allowing the group to become “autonomous”. Hmmmmm, I thought, you look like Sheri but you sound like Carol. I answered all her complaints and then asked if I could come to their next meeting. Even though another volunteer manager oversees the group, I checked with her and she was all for my attending. Maybe she needs some backup I thought.

When I arrived, I was literally attacked with a litany of complaints. The volunteers gathered around my seat at the table and, in rapid fire demanded answers to their questions. Clearly they needed someone new to complain to, and clearly they hoped I had the authority to fix their perceived lack of cooperation on our part. Or they just wanted to complain.

I glanced up and around the room and noticed Carol, smiling smugly from her seat. She was enjoying the attack and having infected the entire group, probably could have mouthed the complaints with them.

To be fair, one of the volunteers came up to me later and apologized for the group. I asked her if the meetings were always like that and she sadly admitted that she kept to herself during meetings and tried to ignore the negativity.

When talking to the volunteer manager afterwards, she did say she tries to avoid being in the meetings and pretty much lets Carol and another volunteer, Rita run the group. She gets what they need and leaves the room, allowing for Carol to infect the others with her caustic attitude.

Why would we want Carol as a volunteer? And why would we let her negativity seep into a group of really good volunteers? Why wouldn’t we let her go?

We’re at that point with Carol. It’s one thing to be crotchety, and another thing to be grumpy; we’ve all had volunteers like that. But the volunteer who likes to stir the pot, when left unchecked, and with a tiny bit of influence, can ruin the experience for so many others. I think they take a sick pleasure in that. The sly little smile on Carol’s lips sent shivers down my spine. I almost could imagine a bit of brain matter dripping down her chin.

I’ll be back to the meetings and help my fellow manager regain a positive control on the group. Rule #6 in the Zombie attack guide is travel in a group. Sometimes volunteer managers need to stick together in a show of force. Negative volunteers like Carol prefer to pick us off one by one. And they love it when they can stir up others. I guess misery really does love company.

We can’t let Carol poison others. Whether we ask her to leave outright,  or monitor her continuously (if we have the stomach for it) or we honestly challenge Carol each and every time she goes for our throats, we have to take charge. If you are so unhappy here, then maybe it’s time to part ways.

Good volunteers need us to run interference all the time, with staff, with clients and with other volunteers. I’ll be going back to the meeting. But I’m not running, Carol. I’m standing my ground. The other volunteers deserve that.

-Meridian