How to Deal With Chronic Complainers (3 min read)

When someone would come to me repeatedly to vent, I would let them talk at first and then I would ask one of three questions…

In your work environment, there is likely one person you hate to see coming. Why? … Because they love to complain about any and everything! They don’t like their boss or supervisor, they have issues with the new policies, procedures or organizational chart. They think Mary Sue in accounting is mean to them for no reason and so and so forth.

These complaining types make it hard to focus on the work and they can suck the joy out of the atmosphere. I’ve never been one of them, but I’ve had to work alongside and supervise several. I refused to spend my days listening to negative comment after negative comment. I found the exercise to be a waste of their time and mine. So I crafted a few responses I kept on hand, ready to use.

When someone would come to me repeatedly to vent, I would let them talk at first and then I would ask one of three questions:

  • “How can we fix it?” – (5 words)
  • “What do you recommend?” – (4 words)
  • “Got an idea?” – (3 words)

… And it worked.

Some would simply get tired of me asking the same questions, so they would stop including me in the conversations. These people were generally miserable and liked to have company. As long as someone was listening and agreeing with their grievance, they experienced a feeling of validation and continued to complain.

Others would continue to come with their complaints, but they would also be ready to discuss possible solutions. These people are what I called “the turnarounds.” Instead of wallowing in what was wrong, they began to focus on ways to make improvements. Those are the ones who would go on to become supervisors, managers or leaders in some capacity.

Asking these questions helps thin the heard. However, I also had one quick response for the ones who continued to complain no matter what questions I asked and didn’t seem to get it. This question was designed to shut them down indefinitely:

  • “So what?” – (2 words)

… Conversations would generally go something like this:

“I don’t think Mary Sue in accounting likes me. I haven’t done anything to her, but she never says Hi to me.”

My response, “So what?”

“Well….I, I just…”

“We’re not here to make friends. We have work to do.”

-Shut down complete-

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See how that works? I would make it clear that what they were complaining about wasn’t dire by making a statement and then turning their attention back to the work at hand. It may sound harsh, but understand that at this point I had already coached the individual on their negative attitude and lack of accountability, encouraged them several times to come with solutions and in some cases I even assisted them in outlining recommendations for change.

Working with difficult people doesn’t have to be stressful! If you are consistent and firm in your expectations and hold them accountable, people will either adjust and play along or they will get out of the way!

 

Sandwich, Anyone?

 

I’m an introvert. I don’t like confrontation. Enough said.

However, I learned very quickly in my career life that confrontation is inevitable. Whether I was working with children, peers my age or peers older than me, I could count on the fact that we wouldn’t always agree. Additionally, I had to navigate conflicts in personal and family relationships. We all do. Situations repeatedly arose where I needed to set boundaries, speak up for myself and/or politely disagree. Through those awkward moments, I began to use a method that worked well to decrease the amount of anxiety I had going into those interactions.

I could be direct, to-the-point and decrease misunderstandings by using the sandwich approach. You may have heard of it and I admit, it doesn’t work for EVERYTHING, but it definitely works for most. It gives you the advantage of crafting your message in a clear and precise way, while adding in some positive feedback or encouragement to lessen the blow. Once you master this method of managing confrontation and delivering less-than-favorable news, it can make addressing issues that come up in the moment less frightening.

As women, we are often expected to be kind and polite, not to disagree too much and not make waves. Men are usually groomed from a young age to be firm, authoritative and decisive. These expectations from our upbringing carry over into our relationships with our significant others, our children and co-workers.

Delivering news that may be hard for someone to hear, doesn’t make me a b***h, but it does make me honest and human. In conquering the fear of delivering “bad news” without obsessing over the possibility of upsetting someone, I found my voice and I found freedom. This isn’t to say that crafting your words just right means that feelings don’t get hurt or someone won’t react negatively, but being okay with that as a potential outcome is part of the growth that comes with being open and finding your voice. It isn’t always about WHAT you say. The magic is in HOW you say it.

You can do it too! After all, practice makes perfect. Take advantage of this short tutorial on The Art of Sandwich Making.