How to Shut Down the Annoying Chronic Complainer at Work

We’re all human and the need to vent occasionally is strong and honestly, can be healthy to get things off your chest. Unfortunately, every office seems to have the chronic complainer lurking in the shadows. For them, complaining is a habit and they cannot seem to turn it off—ever! And since we all live in a world that is imperfect, the chronic complainer has a never-ending supply of things to whine about. Sometimes it just seems like there’s no way to flip the “OFF” switch on this person.

Most of us have the innate ability to overlook the small stuff that irritates the heck out of us. At work, we accept the fact that every once in a while, someone is going to eat that yogurt we had in the lunchroom refrigerator even though our name was on it. However, we won’t look the other way when Steve in Marketing seems to get all the good projects while we get the scraps.

The chronic complainer uses it all to feed the whine machine. This is the co-worker that begins every conversation with the phrase, “Man, you won’t believe what she did now!” In my own experience, my chronic complainer was Ben, who otherwise was a good worker and a pretty nice guy. I freely admit that getting a little office gossip about our boss was fun, but Ben wouldn’t stop. Eventually, I not only grew tired of the complaints, but I grew even more tired of Ben.

So, what can you do to shut down a chronic complainer? Experts offer the following suggestions:

  • Make sure you’d be comfortable if the things you say were repeated to your boss
  • Don’t mindlessly agree. Be cautious when the complaining is about a person or task. Agreeing just to end the conversation can inadvertently make you an ally. When confronted, the complainer may use your name: “I’m not the only one who feels that way ….”
  • Simply acknowledge what the person is saying: “Oh … that must have been really frustrating for you.” This helps the person feel heard and understood.
  • Ask if they want your opinion, and then suggest things you’ve tried successfully to solve the same problem. Experts suggest that you don’t try to convince them … just offer advice once they’ve given you permission to give it. Otherwise, it can come off like a parental lecture with requisite teenager-ish eye-rolling from your complainer afterwards.
  • Suggest that your coworker try to solve the problem by speaking directly with the person that’s causing them to complain.
  • Point out the positive aspects. If your co-worker is complaining about too much work, point out that some of the work is helping to build new areas of expertise or put them in contact with other departments.

A certain amount of complaining is normal, even necessary to blow off steam. And being a good person means listening sometimes. But, working with a chronic complainer can make for a miserable workplace. And, agreeing with him or her is rarely the right approach and can damage your career. If someone of importance happens to walk by and hears the perpetrator and sees you silently nodding your head in agreement (because you’re just being nice), your reputation can be damaged if not altogether ruined.

While it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to completely shut down a chronic complainer, if you’re less receptive and less quick to agree, they’ll likely take their complaints to someone else.

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