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July 28, 2018

Managing a Constant Complainer

Most people complain about work sometimes. Looming deadlines, conflicting priorities, and frustration with lengthy processes can cause grumbling. That’s expected and natural. On the other hand, coworkers who constantly complain about everything can damage morale and negatively affect the whole team’s productivity.

Complainers tend to have a fixed mindset—they feel a lack of control over situations and don’t believe that they can change anything. When they complain, they often speak in generalities, such as, “This process is stupid,” or “I’ll never get this done on time. This deadline is ridiculous.” Comments like these show an all-or-nothing attitude that sees everything as either black or white. It’s your job to help them to see the gray areas.

Don’t challenge them; instead, show acceptance of their opinions, but ask them to explain what they mean. Getting them to focus on specifics instead of generalities can begin to turn around their thinking. For example, say, “I know that this process can seem unnecessary at times, but I’d like to know what’s wrong with it from your perspective? Maybe it does need to be changed.”

Many complainers will likely respond that they are helpless and can’t do anything about it, or they may whine that they have tried “everything” and “nothing” has worked—more all-or-nothing thinking. If they stay in a fixed mindset, tell them you value their input and ask them to role play by pretending to be you. Ask, “What would you do about this if you were me? I’d like to hear your ideas.”

At this point, they will either shift out of a fixed mindset and start to think creatively, or they will repeat their excuses and complaints. If they come up with a good idea, encourage them with praise and recognition to reinforce ongoing positivity. If, however, they continue to complain, you may have to assess the affect the complaining is having on team morale and productivity and take corrective action. See my blog post Working with Toxic People for more information.


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