Dealing With a Chronic Complainer

There is nothing worse than having to listen to someone who constantly complains, whether your spouse, a relative, or friend. But, to me, it’s worse when you encounter someone in the workplace who can’t seem to find anything good in …. anything.

Workplace complainers can be dangerous as their negativity can pervade all spaces in the walls of the organization and they will suck the emotional breath out of those they work with daily. Their greatest pleasure is to get others on their side and be as miserable as they are, even though they may not be as unhappy as they say they are (ironic, isn’t it).

These types of people see themselves good workers and nice people, but feel shocked when their negativity is pointed out. They’re good at deflecting their part, blaming it on an extraneous factor – the boss not being clear, the coworker, who was slow in getting them needed info, the process was too slow for me to access the data I needed, the dog ate my homework – oh, not that one but it seems as if they’ll place the blame on everyone or everything else.

These individuals don’t take responsibility for their part in what happened – they are victims. And you can’t argue with one as they will get angry, pout, and deflect back to you with the hope that you will now feel as bad as they do. Misery loves company, as they say.

How do you deal with a complainer/victim? Here are some tips to help you navigate these choppy waters:

  • listen – try to really ‘hear’ what the other person is saying; they will say words that can indicate where their hurt comes from.  To illustrate, say that John is negative about the boss and the work, making the comment that he wasn’t asked to help, and then going on with a litany of reasons why the workplace is terrible; if you listen to his words, he feels left-out and insignificant, hence his complaining nature
  • use empathy – try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, but don’t wear them, meaning don’t take their pain on which is when we can go down the negative slope. Empathy is a skill that can be honed and helps to soften the other person when they feel understood
  • erect your boundaries, and ensure they are firmly in the ground – boundaries set the limit for behaviors or words you will and will not accept from others, as well as how far we will go. If ‘Negative John’ starts to go on complaining, then you must stop them from going on but in an assertive manner (using “I” statements). Not allowing these conversations to go on will redirect a complainer and you will feel free
  • be inclusive – complainers often feel left out or that their voice doesn’t matter, so by including them in conversations or with work tasks to be completed, this often elevates their mood and stops complaints that go beyond normal
  • put on your shield – just like a Power Ranger puts on their suit, you have to put your shield and determine you will not allow the negativity of others to affect you. It will be hard at first but, with consistency, it will become second nature. Smiling and being positive does have the opposite affect so it can spread and squelch any complaints or negativity
  • focus on solutions – when Negative John starts with a complaint, redirect by asking him how the issue can be resolved as this will create a new way of thinking  lessening further negative views; a bonus is that this will bring up some new ideas that can make a difference in the work being done

Of course, if none of these work (and they won’t with everyone), then you must decide to not interact with them, or on an ‘as needed’ basis (after all, they are coworkers); it might mean asking to sit at another work station or, worst case scenario, speaking with the boss. It certainly is no fun to listen to someone who seems to love to complain (do they love it?) but dealing with it is within your control. Keep ‘in your own lane’ and focus on your own work – you will be happier (and can lead John to want some of the water you’re drinking).

If you’re having trouble dealing with negativity, or it has invaded your workplace, let’s talk; contact us today to create happier and more productive workers at


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: