We’ve all been there. You go to the office, and when you meet with your coworker—it’s usually the same ones—they start complaining about everything: the higher management, the whole company, and even non-work-related topics, such as sports, family, government, and more.
The worst part is that you feel like your coworker expects you to sympathize with their feelings and join the complaint parade. Even if you try to give them another, more optimistic perspective of the situation, they would revert to negativity and keep complaining.
So what do you do if you have coworkers who complain about everything?
In this article, I’ll give you tips on how to effectively deal with complaining coworkers and also help them become more mindful when it comes to complaining. Using the tips listed below, you can even help them change their mindset to look at things more positively.
Table of Contents
Why Are There Coworkers Who Complain About Everything?
Dealing with a coworker who complains all the time is not an easy task. Research has shown that chronic complaining has a negative psychological impact on us and other people.
Hearing and talking repetitively about negative topics transforms our brains into thinking about negative subjects frequently. It can create a snowball situation where negative thinking grows regarding issues (seeing more things as unfavorable) and their social impact.
It can make the environment uncomfortable, even depressing, and blow the wind out of you and your other coworkers. It can even worsen and harm the whole team’s atmosphere, causing decreased productivity and well-being of team members.
When dealing with coworkers who complain a lot, we first need to understand their causes.
Let’s be honest, sometimes they can have a good reason for their complaints, and if we just clear the noise of their tone and phrasing, we would find an actual area to grow as coworkers, friends, and a team.
Being there for a friend and sympathizing with them is crucial to improving the team’s culture. It is also important to blow off some steam from time to time to reduce stress and better frame the problem with our coworker’s help.
We should not make it an event that often happens when we have something to complain about, considering the psychological effects listed above.
We should find a specific coworker to do it with—choose someone we trust who will not be badly affected by our complaints.
3 Types of Complainers
Gregory Tall, a workshop facilitator with over 15 years of human resources experience, has divided complainers into three types:
- People who are simply looking for someone to listen and want to be heard
- People who are not aware of the matters surrounding their complaints
- People who are looking for someone to assist them with a legitimate grievance
For each type of complainer, different dealing methods are needed. It will also differ from one coworker to another.
But the important point is to deal with it because ignoring the problem can have devastating consequences.
How to Deal With Coworkers Who Complain a Lot?
Trying to help a complaining coworker to change their behavior and start seeking solutions (when they only see problems) can lead to disappointment from both sides.
It can strengthen their feeling of “there is no one to talk to,” which will only lead to more complaints to more coworkers and can start or grow the snowball. From your point of view, seeing it happen can disappoint you and make you feel like there is nothing else you can do about it.
So, let’s check some useful methods of dealing with a coworker who complains a lot.
1. Give the Complainer Context
Instead of pointing out only the positive things in the situation and trying to override the complainer’s negativity—which, as written above, can cause the opposite effect—try giving them the context, resonating the situation they complain about with macro factors that caused it to happen.
For example, if a coworker is complaining about the lack of social bonds in the team due to the working from home situation, reminding them of the Covid-19 pandemic that caused this situation and its broader effects on society can help them understand that we are all in the same boat.
Empathizing with your coworker while mirroring the macro factors that caused this situation can open them up to empathize with you and figure out solutions on their own.
2. Find Easy and Manageable Solutions
Ignoring the problem and going with the “you are overreacting, this is not that big deal” approach can also lead to frustration from the complainer and make them feel like there is no one that understands them. Pro’s tip: it’s also not helpful in romantic relationships.
Finding easy solutions to their problems can provide them with the tools they need to overcome this kind of problem in the future and strengthen the relationship and trust between the two of you.
Disclaimer: pay attention not to give the solution but to ask the right questions to help the complainer find the answer by themselves.
Once the solution is found, make sure that they also reflect on the process that they’ve just gone through so they can use this tool again next time.
3. Set Boundaries
Being supportive of coworkers can help build stronger relationships and increase trust among team members. However, it can also take its toll on the supporting team member.
A complaining coworker can become a time thief, spending too much of your time on their complaints. They also come with psychological and emotional costs, as I have mentioned above.
That is why setting clear boundaries is crucial when dealing with a coworker who complains a lot.
Examples of setting limits can be expressing a willingness to listen to their complaints but not talk, or listening and talking but not engaging in the complaints yourself.
You can also say that you are willing to participate in a complaints conversation about each topic once, as complaining about the same thing repeatedly isn’t doing any good to anyone.
4. Call Out the Behavior of Your Coworker
If you have a close relationship with the complaining coworker, consider calling out their behavior and its effect on the surroundings.
Tell them that while recognizing that they experience bad feelings, it’s hard for you and the rest of the team to always be in that negative environment. You can also offer them your help with one of the methods listed above or others that you know of.
Be prepared with examples of their behavior’s effects on team members, but never reveal other team members’ feelings without their consent since it can cause an even worse work environment for the team and a lack of trust among team members.
You can say that you prefer not to disclose who expressed their feelings to you, but you feel responsible for bringing them in front of the complainer because you care about them.
If the relationship with this person is important to you, be sensitive when calling out their behavior. But it is best that you do it as soon as possible.
Complaining can be important in the workplace. It helps employees share their thoughts and important criticism on the team’s and company’s performance and culture.
Moreover, being a good friend to coworkers who need to complain and blow off some steam is crucial. Team members have to trust each other and know that they have someone in their team who are willing to listen to them.
However, they should also be aware that when they complain about things repetitively, it can get intense, tiring, uncomfortable, and even depressing.
Understanding one’s emotions and causes for the complaints isn’t always easy. That is why dealing with those complaining coworkers is essential for team success.
In this article, I provided you with some practical tips and tools to do so. Note that some technological tools like the HOUR25.AI can help one better understand their emotions and better deal with them and help them become more productive at work and live a happier life.
Consider recommending the methods and tools I’ve mentioned to your complaining coworker or the company’s management to create a better and more positive work environment for everyone.
Featured photo credit: LinkedIn Sales Solutions via unsplash.com
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