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6 Ways To Deal With Chronic Complainers

Source | FastCompany : By GWEN MORAN

It may be a dismal coworker or complaining boss, but into most professional lives a few negative people will fall. Those who veer from negative to toxic could actually be costing an organization money and productivity.

Businesses also run the risk of complaints becoming contagious. “People see it and they’re brought down by it too, or they’re saying, ‘Gee, this is an organization that tolerates this kind of thing, I may as well start complaining, too,’” says Robert M. Galford, managing partner of the Center for Leading Organizations and coauthor of Simple Sabotage: A Modern Field Manual for Detecting and Rooting Out Everyday Behaviors That Undermine Your Workplace.

Sick of listening to the negative spew? If you can’t avoid them altogether, there are several ways to deal with a chronic complainer. Here’s how to change the conversation.


Some people turn into chronic complainers because they feel they’re not being heard. They repeat the negative commentary until someone validates what they have to say, says empowerment speaker and coachErica Latrice. “Complainers may want you to try to talk them out of their woe-is-me complaining. If you are in an environment where you have to be around complainers a lot, just use the phrase, ‘If I were you, I would feel the same way,’” she suggests. That allows them to feel heard and may short-circuit the need to repeat a negative message.


Sometimes, negative people just need a bit of perspective adjustment, Galford says. Try helping them reframe the situation. You might offer a different perspective on the situation or action that is being criticized. For example, if a coworker is criticizing a company policy, you might offer insight into why the policy was instituted in the first place and the good that it does. “When you say, ‘Let’s think about this in a different way,’ or, ‘If we start first by understanding the reason things are this way,’ you can change the nature of the dialogue,” Galford says.


Complainers are energy drains for their audiences. Often, their negative talk can energize them because it places blame on others and boosts their self-esteem, saysDavid M. Long, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the College of William & Mary. So, like other communication styles, accepting that this is the individual’s way of communicating without taking it personally can be an effective coping technique.

One thing you don’t want to do is encourage the person to pretend to be more positive. Long says:

Research on the topic of emotional labor shows that asking people to be positive when they are not is resource-draining for them. People need to be real and authentic, so forced positivity is not the best approach. A better approach might be for the chronic complainers to offer their own solutions to problems, and come up with a plan for reaching that solution.

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