Many of my coaching clients as well as participants in my leadership workshops will ask me for advice on how to deal with chronic complainers. I am sure all us know someone or have had to deal with staff or coworkers who just love to complain. But what do you do about people who complain about everything? We must try to do our best to rise above chronic complainers. They are a dangerous, drain our energy and can be very toxic to the team. They certainly can take the creativity, fun and productivity out of any group, team or business.
I love this quote from Hall-of-Fame college football coach Lou Holtz who said, “Never tell your problems to anyone …20 percent don’t care, and the other 80 percent are glad you have them.” So true!
Complaining can be addictive. Complainers also often attract complainers. It will leave little room for positive feelings of gratitude, appreciation, and well-being in any organization. Complainers are seldom happy and see problems instead of solutions, making them difficult to work with.
Optimists see a glass half full. Pessimists see a glass half empty. Chronic complainers see a glass that is holding water that isn’t cold enough, a possible smudge on the rim, which means the glass wasn’t cleaned properly and now I’ll probably end up with some kind of virus. Never enough water in the glass and why did it take so long for the waitress to bring it. Why do these things always happen to me?” Sound familiar? We all of have run across someone like that.
What, then, what 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 like to put a complaining employee in charge of a project. They usually give me an excuse that they don’t have time or just stop complaining, which tells me the complaint wasn’t that important.
Be honest: If it gets to be too much you need to draw the line. Empathize with them and it’s okay to be blunt about not wanting to hear their negativity and that you must move on. 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 is affecting others, morale or the customer experience. 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.
We all know that problems, pet peeves and irritations will always exist. The solutions include try to avoid being a problem-finder and instead be a problem-solver. I like to start conversations by asking, “I need your help.” and acknowledge that we have a new challenge to overcome and I need their help in solving it. Then we can proceed to find ways to tackle it.
Remember this quote from Walt Disney: “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” Maybe he also meant the way to move on is to quit complaining and begin solving. Great advice for all us to follow.
John Formica is America’s Customer Experience Coach, team culture expert, keynote speaker, and Top 10 Global Thought Leader and Influencer on Customer Loyalty. For information on customer experience programs, leadership training, how to find and hire great people and tailored training programs or to book John, contact 704-965-4090 or visit our website at JohnFormica.com.