Dilemma: How do I cut down on my ‘whine’ consumption?
I have a co-worker who complains to me about everything that happens to him here at work. I’m a good listener, but his negative attitude is starting to affect how I feel about our company. Should I tell him he’s complaining too much, be supportive and let him vent, or what?
— Barry, Conference and Event Coordinator
Halt the complaint conveyor belt
The famous “candy factory” episode of I Love Lucy comes to mind here. When the conveyor belt sped up, Lucy and Ethel ended up stuffing candy in their shirts, chef’s hats and mouths. Maybe if they had spoken up they would have been fired, maybe not.
But doing nothing in Barry’s situation will not stop the conveyor belt full of a co-worker’s grievances. The choice is fairly simple: Suffer in silence or take action to change things. Readers suggest these options:
- Try standing up.
- Be polite but direct.
- Help solve the problem.
Try standing up
Do you have extra chairs in your office or cubicle? An event planner encourages removing the extra chairs or putting papers in them so no one can sit down. She offers another way to shorten visits.
“When the person comes to you, if you are sitting, stand up [as if you are leaving to go elsewhere] and if that person doesn’t take the cue, say you are on your way to xyz and you only have five minutes to spare,” she says.
Be polite but direct
Tell the person that you have work to do. A reader discovered this after losing patience with a chronic complainer.
“I would have liked to have handled it better, but I lost my patience at some point and told her that if her job/boss/career was so bad, she should just look for another job; I needed to get work done, and we could leave the complaints for lunchtime. Surprisingly, it worked! At that moment, she just stared at me surprised and a little bit mad, but later on our relationship went well, and we didn’t have any more issues.”
Being “polite” can also do wonders. Pick up a few phrases like “I have one minute, and then I need to get back to work” or “I have a phone call in two minutes and need to prepare.”
Help solve the problem
Nicci Herrell, event coordinator at Siemens PLM Software, shares this advice: “I would say to the employee, ‘Complaining is not productive; finding a resolution is,’ with a smile and enthusiasm. Let the person know you are willing to help find or present a solution, as long as the complaint is merited.”
An exhibit manager agrees that focusing on a solution works well. She asks what you can do to solve the issue and turn it into a positive. “Each time he’s negative or complaining, say, ‘Yep, things happen for a purpose, so what’s the lesson or what are you doing to fix/solve it?’ If you keep saying the same thing, he will realize you won’t allow him to just keep complaining.”
This approach forces the complainer to do something about the problem or stop complaining about it. Don’t let the complaints stack up in your office.