7 Truths about Chronic Complainers Every Leader Needs Today
“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do.” Dale Carnegie
- Seek validation. Constant complaining is a plea for attention.
- Feel powerless. Complainers see themselves as weak and circumstances as powerful.
- Feel powerful when they complain. The only thing weakness can do is affirm itself and disrupt others.
- Don’t see themselves as pollution.
- Cuddle with problems and bristle at solutions. News Flash! Chronic complainers aren’t seeking advice.
- Play it safe. It’s easier to complain than seek solutions.
- 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?
Managing a Chronic Complainer (hbr.org)
How to Stay Positive When Dealing with Difficult People (happify.com)
This is GOOD.
When I complain, (once/year) my wife hold up her hand and makes the letter “C” with thumb and first finger.
It’s a reminder to focus on what I can do to make things better. It also motives me to find the positives in the situation.
I find chronic complained seldom take responsibilities for anything the did wrong. They act like victims blaming others for their situation.
I tend to agree “Chronic complainers” only listen to themselves, They don’t like “Accountability” and have nothing better to do than whine and point fingers. I always like “If you have nothing nice to say than say nothing at all”! A bit off the road but a pleasurable resolution. I like the resolution also that says; If you don’t like it than fix it? Surely if the process disturbs you wnough to complain, be prepared to offer the solutions.
Such a good post. So true. I really resonated with your statement that they don’t see themselves as pollutants. At first glance this might seem harsh; however, looking a bit deeper shows the true nature. Good-hearted people more than likely will want to help and offer advice just as frequently as the complainer complains. When the advice is not heeded, frustration can occur. Now we potentially have 2 disgruntled individuals which then bleeds into the rest of the culture. Such good insight, Dan. Thank you!
I disagree on some of these points. Sometimes complainers have not been HEARD for so long that is their only way to get out their frustration. Perhaps taking the time to understand the reason WHY the complainer complains and seeking solutions that may help the complainer be part of the solution. This bashes many women on the head throughout their working history because they are often left unheard while their male counterparts are praised for the same solutions. This is far too simplistic and disregards the value of the person making the complaints.
I love the question, Do you think we can solve this today? followed by soliciting 3 imperfect solutions, and putting the accountability on the complainer. This is the leader modeling to the rest of the group that complaining can be managed, not simply tolerated/ignored. For a moment, the complainer gets a bit of the attention they seek; if they follow through, they get more positive attention.
Complaining comes in many forms; I know someone who is a master of “mentioning.” It doesn’t come off as a complaint, but the “mentioning” is endless until a solution is offered. Offering attention before the mentioning starts can head it off at the pass.
I want to say how much I love reading your articles. Even when I am off work and come back to over 2000 emails, I always flag these to read at a later time. Not only do they give me insight to better ways to manage team members, my day, different situations I am dealing with, etc.. They also give me better insight on how to manage my 7 kids! 🙂 I truly appreciate you taking the time to write these and put in the extra effort. It never goes unnoticed.