7 Signs of Chronic Complainers and How to Deal with Them

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If you feel yourself being pulled into the other person’s negative view, say in a compassionate tone, “You’re doing a good job of helping me feel what it feels like to be you. I’m sorry you have to deal with all that.”

For a person who probably doesn’t receive many compliments and who feels alone in his unhappiness, this simple expression of empathy may provide the affirmation that he needs to let go of the negative topic for the time being.

Build a Healthy Work Environment

Creating an environment where motivated employees are encouraged and given the freedom to do their best work is a primary concern for every manager. It starts with hiring the right people and creating a culture of accountability for negative behaviors, including identifying and remedying problems. There’s no room for chronic complainers in a healthy workplace.

Recognize When Its Time to Escalate

If behaviors do not change, it’s time to move from coaching to counseling. ​Coaching is designed to elicit positive change in behaviors by offering guidance, encouragement, and specific action steps.

Counseling offers clear feedback that the behaviors are unacceptable and identifies the implications of failing to change them. When counseling, you can help yourself by:

  • Working with your human resources manager to structure a counseling approach and plan.
  • Ensuring you document all of the prior feedback, coaching and counseling.
  • Presenting the employee with a performance improvement program that clearly defines the outcomes for improving or failing to do so.
  • Ensuring you follow up with the employee at the established times, and measuring their performance only against the agreed-upon parameters.

While chronic complainers seem harmless on the surface, the damage may become irreparable in the long run. You owe it to your team, your firm, and yourself to remove toxic behavior from the workplace.

How to Deal with Chronic Complainers

Don’t Try to Convince Them

Sometimes, it’s just best for you both if you don’t try to convince them to be more positive. Not only will it save you from a possible argument or heated debate, but it could be more important to them than you realize.

Sometimes chronic complainers are just outright negative people, but some may be genuinely down on their luck people who need some validating.

When a person has nothing but complaints, they might be struggling with their negative mindset. When you hear them complain, try validating it and then moving them on. Sometimes, they just want to be told than someone understands that they’re struggling.

Whether it’s something petty or more serious, meet them with sympathy. Offer to support them in trying to resolve the matter, then move on the conversation so they can’t dwell on it – for your own sake and theirs.

Bring Their Positivity Back

If you come to realize that this chronic complainer is struggling to find light in the darkness, offer them support. Coach them through it. When they speak of something negatively, ask them why they feel so bothered by it.

Listen to their answers then help them unpack their reactions. Offer them genuine ideas that could help them to feel less negative. Suggest positive alternatives and different points of view that might make them see things differently and more rationally.

Why Complain?

Complaining isn’t all bad.  Occasional venting and expression of negative emotions to a colleague about difficult situations allow us to get our concerns out into the open, and in doing so, lessen possible stress reactions. Repressing our feelings may stop us from naming our problem and getting to the bottom of it. People also complain in order to feel better about themselves. Returning to Peter, perhaps he wanted Lisa’s validation for how unfair or annoying his situation was and to establish some kind of emotional connection.

But complaints can also be used as a way to exercise power and influence perceptions. Especially within organizations, which can be hotbeds of political games, people use complaining in order to get people’s support. On this interpretation, Peter might have been trying to recruit Lisa to his point of view concerning what he thought was wrong with some of the people in their organization.

In many cases, chronic complaining starts early in life, as a means of gaining visibility and establishing rapport in the family. These early experiences can become deeply ingrained patterns of behavior, and in Peter’s case, may have become part of his identity.  This would explain why he reacts poorly to advice because resolving his problem would take away the reason to complain, threatening his sense of self.

What about you?

Are you willing to admit which Facebook complainer you are?

Me? I’m a mix of Opportunist & Aggressive Customer.

OK, complainers, let ‘er rip!