How do I approach complainers?

If you work with one of those delightful people whose sole purpose in life is to flood your mental landscape with complaints, consider these five practices for approaching them with comfort and class:

1. Appreciate their value. Yes, complaining is unattractive. Yes, complaining solves nothing. Yes, complaining makes you want to drown yourself in the water cooler.

Still, there is some validity in listening closely to what people are whining about. Often times, these people point out problems everyone else overlooked. What good does this complainer point out?

2. Allow dead air. Nothing makes complainers happier than when another person validates their position and joins them in their self-indulgent pity party. Don’t let this happen to you. Don’t get sucked into their vortex of negativity because they’re insecure about their own life situation.

Instead, try saying nothing. Literally. Complainers HATE dead air. Eventually they’ll get bored and move on. Are you willing to accept silence as a normal part of your conversations?

3. Remove the audience. What’s the best way to handle a screaming child who demands Mike & Ikes in the checkout line of the grocery store? Ignore him. After all, they only make a fuss to get attention.

So, the same parallel can be made for complainers: They’re the kind of people who grumble aloud, then look around the room to see who agrees with them. Validate me! Validate me! They think.

My suggestion: Remove the audience. Don’t make eye contact. Do something else. Or just walk away. No Audience = No Attention = No Reason to Complain. What if there was nobody to complain to?

4. Mirror the responsibility. If there’s one thing complainers hate, it’s taking responsibility. After all, they wouldn’t be complaining if they had any idea how to execute, right?

So, here’s what you do. Next time someone complains to you about some insolvable issue, refuse to take ownership of her problem. Do the exact opposite – mirror the responsibility. Try saying, “So, what are you going to do about it?” or “What do you suggest?” or “Well then, what’s the solution?” How are you calmly putting the ball back in their court?

5. Send it back. When all else fails, snarkiness might be the answer. (Some people just need to hear it!) So, respond with slightly cynical language that refuses to fuel the fire.

For example, next time your coworker, Lauren, stops by your cubicle to whine about how her caveman boyfriend left the seat up and she accidentally fell into the toilet and that’s why she was twenty minutes late getting to work, respond with, “That’s great news!” “Thanks for sharing that!” or “Don’t worry, I read in US Weekly that Urine is the name of Paris Hilton’s new perfume line!”

If neither of those approaches work, you could always try, “Lauren, I can’t believe I just let you waste two minutes of my life. I am now dumber having listening to you. Please go away or else I’m calling security.” Are you willing to fight fire with snark?

REMEMBER: Complaining rarely makes anybody any money.

Except maybe George Carlin.

How do you approach complainers?

For the list called, “26 Rapid-Fire Strategies for becoming the Most Approachable Person in Your Organization,” send an email to me, and I’ll send you the list for free!

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Coach, Entrepreneur

If they can’t come UP to you; how will they ever get BEHIND you?

Buy Scott’s new book and learn daily practices for becoming a more approachable manager!

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Author. Speaker. Strategist. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Gameshow Host. World Record Holder. I also wear a nametag 24-7. Even to bed.
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