Dear Orna: I share a small workspace with a chronic complainer and have to listen to his grievances and whining all day long. It drives me crazy! How can I make him stop?
~ Signed: Tired of all the whining!
Dear Tired of All The Whining: My heart goes out to you. There are few things that will bring you down quicker than spending your day with a constant complainer. Problem is, no matter what you say or do, the true whiner will not be satisfied. They will never stop whining because they are not trying to solve their problem, they actually like to whine!
Don't Give Any Satisfaction
As you probably already know, listening and nodding can backfire and make you the #1 sounding board. At the same time, being confrontational and telling someone they complain too much rarely goes well. So my first recommendation is: don't give him any satisfaction when he complains. Don't agree. Don't disagree. Don't respond directly to his complaints. Do nothing! Eventually he'll look for a sympathetic ear elsewhere.
If You Must Respond . . .
The first way to shake him up is to respond with a new perspective. If the whiner complains that a co-worker is hard to work with, then share your different point of view by saying: "I don't find her difficult. She's just very thorough and takes more time to make a decision." This type of response takes the fun out of his complaining; and hopefully, he will move on.
Another, even more powerful way to respond is to turn things around. Say something like: "WOW! That sounds like something that's really bothering you. What are you going to do about it?" Instead of being their sounding-board, you are actually suggesting they try to solve the problem. For a chronic complainer, this is a very scary thought. Now, they will probably run in the other direction!
Creative Corporate Solution
The CEO of PaceButler Corporation actually offered a cash reward to any of his 70 employees who could refrain from complaints or gossip for at least seven days. Participants in the challenge monitored themselves and each other wearing a rubber wrist band. If an employee whined or complained, he had to move the wrist band to the other arm and be disqualified. Workers who went for one week without toxic talk were eligible to enter a $500 per month drawing.
What they found was that the program made everyone stop and think before they spoke. It had a great impact on the entire team.
Whiners Don't Get Promoted
Companies are well aware that actively disengaged employees impact everyone on the team. For this reason, those individuals are often given projects that tend to move them out of the mainstream with little opportunity for growth or advancement.
You don't have to put up with whiners! Stop them in their tracks.