Complainer is a Complainer

Some people will never be happy.  You know the personality type.  Almost everyone workplace has a professional complainer.  No matter what happens, they complain about everything: temperature of the office, weather, traffic, lunch, workload, and everyone in the workplace.  If there is an absence of issues or concerns, the person goes beyond the norm to find something to complain about to all that will listen. In the workplace, these personalities create counter-productive situations, increase tension, and reduce employee morale.  Research shows that an average person complains between 15 and 30 times a day. So, we all complain, but obsessive complaining exceeds the norm and dominates interaction.

When noticing someone complains more than the norm, other factors are likely to be part of their interactions.  Constant complainers typically:

  • make excuses and lack personal accountability;
  • talk about issues and refuse to take action;
  • focus on themselves instead of others; and
  • feel that they need converts.

This combination of traits easily destabilizes any work unit or workplace. A recent client described how 80 percent of her time was spent dealing with “her complainers” and they only produced 20 percent of her productivity.  She acknowledged that nothing would fix the people or the situation.  However, her personality gravitated toward finding solutions.  Her inability to fix the complainers made her question herself and served as a constant reminder of an unsolved issue. Most of us have been there and wondered what we can do to make the person happier.

In working with groups on workplace culture and dynamics, some of the most common comments from coworkers of complainers describe their work experience as:

  • draining;
  • overwhelming;
  • counter-productive;
  • unsettling; and
  • disruptive.

Put simply, one unhappy person can ruin the environment for everyone else.

What can you do?

Provide assistance when possible – If some specific issue exacerbates the complaining, then there might be room for you to assist.  Moreover, if the person has a legitimate workplace complaint, it is important to listen and be involved.  Otherwise, look for solutions when available and assist when you can while avoiding actions that encourage the behavior.  The most important action of avoid is our second issue.

Stay out of the cycle of complaining – Complainers enjoy an audience and staying out of the dialogue reduces some of the behavior.  Unlike the person who reaches the maximum of frustration and wants to “vent,” the complainer seeks an audience with anyone that will entertain his or her negativism.  The person seeks attention and negativism provides the conduit for the desired outcome.

Set boundaries – Continually listening to complaining creates stress in those listening and subjected to the complaints.  You have to protect yourself.  Although it is not possible to completely stop a complainer from complaining, make sure the employee knows the boundaries and that you will not allow their desire for attention to take over the workplace.

Do not let the complainers get you down!

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