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How to handle whiners at work

All workplaces have one or more whiners who spread a bad mood around and steal time and energy from their surroundings. It doesn't matter what you talk to them about - there is always a negative angle. I'm not someone who believes that people should always beam with joy over everything, but there is every reason in the world to do something about those who still whines as it spreads to others - yes, a whiner can pull down an entire department's desire to work (and if you ask me, he/she won't even be satisfied having done that).

You recognize this, right?

So what can you do about it? Sure, if you can't get them to quit and gp work somewhere else (I'm serious), you'll surely have to try these things:

1. You try to cheer them up with “Don't worry, we can take care of that” or “Come on, it can't be that bad!”, but it will never work. Why? Because they love to whine more than having their problems solved.

2. You can propose solutions such as “But what about doing it this way …”or...”Have you tried …? It won't work for the same reason - they don't really want to solve the problem.

3. The more you propose solutions, the more resistance you get. The more arguments you bring, the more you get back. Being a whiner is a full time job - Yes maybe he/she is even on a mission that he/she never will let you take away.

4. To say that the whiners have to pull themselves together is the same as you telling him/her that the problem is insignificant and that he/she just needs to get his/her act together to solve it.

5. To complain about the one complaining makes yourself a whiner.

6. Ignoring the whiners doesn’t work either because you no longer seem be aware of their problem. Therefore they think that they need to complain even more to make you pay attention and care about them.

7. Agreeing with them and saying things like, “Yes, you're right. Everything is shit” and ”I agree, this routine is useless” is pretty convenient because it creates a bond between you. But it doesn't work in the long run because the more people complain, the less likely they are to do something about it – and the more they will turn to you with their meaningless complaints because you have proven to be a friend by acknowledging their misery.

8. Confront them. You can pick a real fight with the whiners and challenge their complaints, but that will just result in them staying away from you. Everyone else will have to continue to listen to their problems.

OK, but what works then?

I'll reveal a secret trick that a smart friend of mine uses when he talks to his daughter when she complains that she doesn't own a particular thing or that ”everyone else” has the latest mobile phone. She's always been a very determined young lady, so he knows that nothing works - except this:

Scene: They are sitting around the kitchen table, eating.

The daughter suddenly says something about a thing that she doesn't have or is allowed to do (just insert any teenage problem here). He lets her go on with her whining and just listens. When she's done he usually says:
”–That's terrible, it's really awful. I had no idea that you had so many problems right now.”
She looks a bit bewildered and replies:
”–Eh … well, it's really not that serious.”

This works because what she wants is sympathy, not a solution and not any counter arguments.
She just wants someone to listen and to have understanding of what she is experiencing as a difficult situation. When he brings out the big artillery and really feels sorry for her, she gets a new perspective of the problem.
It took my friend 15 years to work out this method and now he uses (and I do too) this method almost every day in every situation that involves whiners – it's super. But of course we don't use it to be sarcastic, but actually empathetic. You don't have to agree that the problem is big, just acknowledge that the whiner sees it as a problem and show him/her your compassion for his/her situation.

Try it yourself - and be sincere!

About the author

Stefan Ekberg has worked in marketing for small business for 20 years and has written around 30 books on how small business owners can market themselves with limited resources. . In 2012 Stefan was nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year in Stockholm.

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