7 Truths about Chronic Complainers Every Leader Needs Today

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do.” Dale Carnegie

Goose with tilted head.

Chronic complainers aren't seeking advice.

Chronic complainers:

  1. Seek validation. Constant complaining is a plea for attention.
  2. Feel powerless. Complainers see themselves as weak and circumstances as powerful.
  3. Feel powerful when they complain. The only thing weakness can do is affirm itself and disrupt others.
  4. Don’t see themselves as pollution.
  5. Cuddle with problems and bristle at solutions. News Flash! Chronic complainers aren’t seeking advice.
  6. Play it safe. It’s easier to complain than seek solutions.
  7. Blame. It’s the boss. It’s the weather. It’s always something other than themselves. Chronic complainers are blamers. Chronic complainers are happy with themselves but not with others.

Warning: Chronic complainers seek followers.

How to respond to chronic complainers:

#1. Don’t offer solutions.

Every solution you suggest to a complainer motivates them to pile on 10 more complaints. Offering solutions to complainers is exhausting to you and empowering to them.

#2. Open the door for imperfect solutions.

Ask, “How likely is it that we will be able to solve this today?” The answer is, “Not very.”

#3. Create commitment.

Ask, “Can we make this a little better?” Wait for a yes.

Solutions never come from people who don’t believe they’re possible.

Those who aren’t committed find fault. Those who are committed find a way.

Move to #4 only if there’s commitment.

#4. Generate three imperfect solutions.

Ask, “What small thing could you do to make this situation a little better?” (Notice the pronoun ‘you’.) Don’t say ‘we’ unless you plan to get involved.

After generating three imperfect solutions ask, “Which would you like to try?” Making choices empowers.

#5. Establish accountability.

“Let’s get together next week to discuss what you learned and what to do next.”

From your perspective, what’s true of chronic complainers?

What suggestions might you offer for dealing with chronic complainers?

Bonus material:

Managing a Chronic Complainer (hbr.org)

How to Stay Positive When Dealing with Difficult People (happify.com)