Complaining is addictive. Complainers attract complainers. It leaves little room for positive feelings of gratitude, appreciation, and well-being. They are seldom happy. Complainers see problems instead of solutions, making them difficult to work with.
Randy Pausch, the professor who is famous for “The Last Lecture,” said: “If you took one-tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you’d be surprised by how well things can work out ... Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.”
The Glass Half Dirty
Guy Winch, Ph.D., wrote in “Psychology Today,” “Optimists see a glass half full. Pessimists see a glass half empty. Chronic complainers see a glass that is slightly chipped, holding water that isn’t cold enough, probably because it’s tap water when I asked for bottled water and wait, there’s a smudge on the rim, too, which means the glass wasn’t cleaned properly and now I’ll probably end up with some kind of virus. Why do these things always happen to me?”
So often, those who complain about the way the ball bounces are the ones who dropped it in the first place.
What, then, is the best way to deal with chronic complainers? Here are a few suggestions:
- Listen. Hear them out so they don’t feel they are being ignored. Maybe you will learn something. But don’t throw fuel on the fire by agreeing with or validating their complaints. Show empathy, but not necessarily sympathy.
- Ask for solutions. When someone approaches you with a complaint, nicely ask them what they’ve done to improve the situation. They may have some good ideas, or it may abruptly end the conversation. I know one manager who put a complaining employee in charge of a project. The complainer quickly learned how difficult it is to make everyone happy all the time and had a noticeable change in attitude.
- Be honest. If it gets to be too much, you need to draw the line. It’s OK to be blunt about not wanting to hear their negativity and that you must move on. Or that you are slammed and don’t have time right now. Find a pleasant way to move on but be firm.
- Have a heart-to-heart conversation. Sometimes you need to call out complainers. This might harm your relationship, but it also might help them realize their bad habit of complaining. Most likely, the complainer will find another audience for their list of grievances.
- Lead by example. Don’t join in negative conversations. Bring positivity into the conversations. There is almost always something good in every situation; emphasize that.