Whiners, gripers, chronic complainers - we try to avoid them lest we get stuck listening to their latest litany of problems. Unfortunately, we don't always see them coming fast enough to get away. Or circumstances require that we interact with them for extended periods of time. Whatever the reason, sometimes we are forced to deal with people like this, no matter how unpleasant we may find their company.
So how do we avoid getting sucked in by their negativity? How do we keep their antagonistic attitude from bringing us down? Here are some suggestions:
1. Smile and nod. This is a tip I picked up during a training I attended a few years back. The key here is to remain silent. When a person starts ranting about what's wrong with the world, anything you say in response just adds fuel to the fire. If you listen quietly without feeding the flames the complainer eventually runs out of steam.
2. Model better behavior. In her book "Managing Difficult People," Marilyn Pincus recommends finding three positive things to say during every conversation you have with a complainer. Not only are you setting an example, accentuating the positive can protect you from becoming infected by the complainer's negative outlook.
3. Make a pre-emptive strike. Start a conversation before the complainer has a chance to say anything. Pick a topic - preferably something neutral - and start talking. That way, you get to decide what to talk about. Just be sure to steer the conversation away from whatever might be bothering the complainer today.
4. Agree and move on. Agree with the complaint. "Yeah, that does suck." Then change the subject.
5. Set firm limits. Set a limit on how long you're willing to listen. Give the complainer a few minutes to vent. Then say something like, "I don't mean to cut you off but I've got a lot of work to do."
6. Put the ball in their court. In "Complaining, Teasing, and Other Annoying Behaviors," Robin Kowalski recommends holding complainers accountable for finding their own solutions. Say something like, "Wow, that does sound tough. What are you going to do about it?"
7. Remain emotionally detached. When we are repeatedly exposed to another's complaints we may begin to consider the ways in which our own lives are lacking. Or we may become frustrated when our attempts to help a chronic complainer ultimately prove futile. Try to avoid becoming emotionally invested in the chronic complainer's problems. Remember, they are not your problems; do not take responsibility for them.