Whining in the Workplace

Sad Toddler

Leaders hear whining about teammates and other leaders. Reminds me of kids in the backseat. “He touched me!”

  • “Bob spoke harshly to me.”
  • “Mary’s clothing is too casual.”
  • “Bill Doesn’t like me.”
  • “Mary plays favorites.”

You ask, “Did you say something?”

They say, “No. I couldn’t do that.”

Big issue:

Whining may seem small but it’s big. Whiners, who don’t own and express opinions and concerns, are organizational dead-weight. Complaints about others are the tip of the iceberg.

Whiners won’t provide independent, controversial, or contradictory options, in public. They go along but whine behind the scenes. They:

  1. Destroy open communication
  2. Drain energy.
  3. Undermine team culture.
  4. Weaken relationships.

5 Reasons whiners come to you:

  1. They want you to handle it for them – fear and irresponsible.
  2. You’re sympathetic and they want support – whiner.
  3. They’re undermining others – power and position.
  4. It’s not their place, they believe, to say anything – confused and lack of ownership.
  5. They don’t know what to do – unskilled.

Anonymity breeds irresponsibility.

Those who own complaints are prepared to find solutions. Those who lurk in the shadows and toss stones feel powerful when they destroy and tear down.

Responding to whining about others:

The critical moment is when you realize they don’t want to personally address their complaint. Five options:

  1. Explore. “What makes you feel that way? What happened?”
  2. Contradict. “Mary’s clothing isn’t too casual.”
  3. Support. “I know what you mean. Bob seems to like Sally the best.”
  4. Challenge. “You need to say something to your boss.”
  5. Solve. “I’ll speak to your boss.”

Other responses to whining about others:

  1. Ask, “What would you like me to do?”
  2. I’ll help you formulate an approach, if you don’t know what to say.
  3. I won’t listen to this complaint until you speak to them.
  4. Let’s call Mary and clear the air right now.

What impact does whining have on your organization?

What are useful responses to whining about others?