Workplace Rights

Weekly (8/14/12)

Topic of the Week  Constant Complainers

Constant Complainers, Executive Summary:

  • Validation.
  • Don't fix.
  • Respond with a question.
  • Avoid them. 

How To Train Your Dragon: Surviving a Constant Complainer

There is nothing that turns a job from a headache into a nightmare quite like a chronic complainer. If you can relate, you're not alone. According to a recent study 70% of us work with someone who is always griping. And after personally responding to over 50,000 emails, I've heard 'em all: bosses who have really bad body odor, fluorescent lights and workers who keep being told to take risks and make mistakes but then are punished whenever they do. Which reminds me of an email that I once received from a guy who had to deal with his boss's dog urinating on his cubicle wall every day at work. When he complained to his boss he was told that it was "cute."

Complaints are a complicated subject at work. On the one hand they're the way that organizations change. But there is a big difference between constructive criticism that leads to personal or organization change, occasional blowing off steam and constant complaining that lets all the air out of everyone's tires. I've included four strategies for surviving whiners among us.

Validation. There are two schools of thought here. The first says that you don't want to engage the chronic complainers on any level. It only encourages them. But I tend to disagree. I believe that someone complaining is looking for validation and empathy. So a well timed, "That sounds difficult" or just a nod of your head can make all the difference in the world.

Don't fix. There is a big difference between someone looking for a solution to a difficult problem and someone just whining with no evidence at all that they are looking for a solution. So many of us fail to make that distinction and we start problem solving all over the other person. This doesn't work in a relationship, get the message guys, or at work.

Respond with a question. "So what will you do?" "Any ideas about how you want to proceed?" "So what's your plan?" Yes, I'm suggesting that you channel your inner Dr. Phil and just ask questions. This accomplishes two things, first it shows that you're listening to them and second it puts the problem firmly back on their shoulders.

Avoid them. Constant negative energy is not only a bummer to be around, it even has been shown to damage your brain. Really. Researchers have found elevated Cortisol levels in the brain that can damage synapses. This strategy can be challenging with coworkers, but it can be downright difficult when your boss is the constantly complainer. In that case avoidance probably has its limitations, so there you want to try to practice having the boss not push your buttons.

In researching this topic I came across a great word, one-downmanship. As opposed to one-upsmanship, this is when a constant complainer just drags you down into the hole that he or she is in. And also don't forget to stop constantly complaining yourself, much better to be a part of the solution than the problem.

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, "The Boss's Survival Guide." If you have a question for Bob, contact him via


Thought of the Week

"Man alone is born crying, lives complaining, and dies disappointed. "

–Samuel Johnson

Blog of the Week

Top Five News Headlines

    List of the Week

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