There’s one in every office — that person whose coffee is always cold, whose commute is longer and worse than everyone elses, who is the only one to face difficult customers, and who is just plain never happy unless he or she is complaining.
I’m not talking here about the occasional or legitimate complaint. I think we should probably take the time to listen to those, empathize, and/or help the person problem solve. What I’m talking about are the Eeyores of the Office – the ones with the dark cloud over their heads who want you to get under it with them.
If you want to stop being the victim of a workplace whiner, there are a few techniques you can try. Some of them are designed to get the whiner to problem solve, others are likely to just make them go away. Either way, you’ll be able to regain your time and get back to work.
1. Share your truth.
If the whiner complains that a coworker is difficult to work with, share your truth by saying,
“I don’t find her difficult. She’s just very thorough and takes more time to make decisions.”
If the whiner complains about traffic, you can say,
“I find it’s a breeze to get here quickly if I leave home before 7 a.m.”
Why does this work? Whiners want someone to commiserate with them, not someone who contradicts them. When you share your truth, you’re taking the fun out of their complaining and they’ll take their show elsewhere.
2. Ask the whiner why he or she is sharing the complaint with you.
You could say,
“That sounds like a difficult issue. What would you like me to do to help?”
When you ask this question you’ll either get a legitimate request for assistance, or if the complainer doesn’t really want a solution and was just venting…again, he or she will likely tell you there’s nothing you can do and walk away. A chronic complainer doesn’t want to waste time talking with someone who wants to fix things, only to someone who will entertain the complaint and allow him or her to go on and on about it.
3. Learn to say “no” to listening to whining.
If the whiner is bringing you the same complaint you’ve addressed before and it’s obvious he or she isn’t looking for a solution, don’t have the same conversation again. Say,
“Dave, we’ve had this conversation before. I’ve offered you all the advice I can think of and I don’t think there’s anything else I can do to help. I’m sorry, but I’m not interested in having this conversation again. I have a lot of work to get done this morning and I need to get back to it.”
To answer your question before you ask, YES, Dave will likely be unhappy with this response, but the Daves of the world aren’t going to be happy with anything you have to say. It’s time to focus on your own happiness (and productivity) and stop being the sounding board for the whiners of the world.
4. Send them away until they come back with solutions.
Especially if you’re too uncomfortable trying #3 above, you can always say to the whiner,
“It sounds like this is an important problem for you and I’d like to help. Why don’t we set a time to talk later today when you’ve had some chance to think about solutions. I’ll be glad to discuss the solutions you’ve come up with and give you my input. What time do you want to meet?”
One of two things will happen as a result of this approach. First, you might actually help the whiners in your life start being more solution oriented and you’re telling them you’re there to help, as long as they take steps first to help themselves. Second, if the whiner doesn’t want to solve the problem, he or she won’t come back. Problem solved for you!
5. Ask, “What are you going to do about it?”
This is probably one of the most powerful techniques of all. It stops whiners in their tracks and tells them right away that you’re not about to become their sounding board. Instead, you’re going to require them to solve their own problems. This question doesn’t have to be asked with a harsh or aggressive tone. You simply wait until the whiner has stated the complaint and then sincerely say,
“Wow, that sounds like something you’re really concerned about. What are you going to do about it?”
The result will be similar to the other four techniques, the whiner will actually start exploring solutions, or will become frustrated by you and walk away to find someone else who will listen to them whine.