Wednesday, September 28, 2005

How Do YOU Deal With a Chronic Complainer?

We all come across these people once in a while...and you know the ones I'm talking about. The ones who think their contribution in life is to be the one who spreads the most misery. Nothing is good enough for these people--I call them Chronic Complainers. These people can be extremely frustrating to deal with (if you let them get to you).

Here's the 2 things to remember about chronic complainers:

1. They will NEVER, NEVER be happy or satisfied.
2. They will NEVER run out of things to complain about.

You could bake them a cake and they'd say, "what, it's not chocolate?" They could win a car and gripe about paying taxes on their new FREE car. You could give them a bag full of money and they'd tell you the burlap sack itches their hand. You know the type.

Do you come across Chronic Complainers in your life?

Are these people causing you stress? Wasting your time? Zapping your energy?

Have you always wondered how to deal with these people?

Finally, here's your answer.

All you have to do is SHAKE THEM UP a bit.

That's it! Amazingly simple, and yet it works wonders. Just shake them up a bit. OK, some of you look puzzled, so I'll explain. But first let's look at how you probably alreayd cope with these people when you encounter them (some of you may be unfortunate enough to have to encoutner a Chronic Complainer every day, so listen up!)

When your Chronic Complainer starts griping, which is your coping method of choice:

a) ignore it / allow them to "vent" without responding
b) try to point out the bright side of whatever they'r complaining about (e.g., "Well, at least you're not pregnant!")
c) change the subject
d) join in to make them feel better (misery loves company)
e) avoid the person at all costs and when you must interact, avoiding asking "So, how's it going?"

Here's the trouble with each of these responses (keep in mind rule #1 and rule #2 with Chronic Complainers - they'll never be happy/satisfied and they'll never run out of things to complain about).

a) ignore it/allow it. This only encourages the behavior to continue. Your silence is perceived as permission, and they will continue to complain to you as long as you allow it.
b) illuminating the bright side. See rule #1 (to them, there is no bright side); see also rule #2 (the bright side opens the door for more things to complain about). This doesn't work because you've indicated that you're willing to engage in converation, so now they waste TWICE as much of your time. Bad idea.
c) change the subject. OK, what subject do you really think you can bring up that they will NOT complain about? Remember rule #2, which means every subject is a potential pitfall. These people are like professional complainers, so the subject change will only work with amateurs, and not Chronic Complainers.
d) join in the misery. Does this really make you feel better? Trust me, you're not helping. Plus, guess who they're gonna call when everyone else starts ignoring them and changing the subject...YOU. Don't drag yourself down to their level, you're bigger than that.
e) avoidance/denial. Not always a practical option, especially if it's someone you work with, live with, or are (gulp) related to. Not exactly the mature option, either. Hey, I'm not saying I've never done it, I'm just saying it's not always the best course of action.

OK, so we've covered what NOT to do, now let's get back to that SHAKE THEM UP a bit suggestion.

Here's the million-dollar question:

Are you genuinely interested in helping the person to change (thereby helping not only that person adn yourself, but everyone else in that person's life!) or do you just want to pretend you never met this person?

Because if your motivation for reading this posting is all about YOU, you're not going to like my answer. On the other hand, if you're genuinely interested in helping the other person, read on Brave One.

To shake them up, you have to respond in a way that's different from what they'll expect. You've heard the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over adn expecting different results. How do you think I know about possible repsonses a though e? Becuse I've TRIED THEM ALL. That's how I know they don't work! So I finally had to try something DIFFERENT to find out what will work.

The interesting thing is that there are literally thousands of ways to respond DIFFERENTLY to get a differnet response, and to shake them up a bit. What works for one person may just tick off another person. You've got to go with your gut on this one.

I know what you're thinking...can you have an example? Sure, I'll give you a few.

YOU: How's it going this morning?

THEM: Terrible! I overslept, then my eggs were runny and my bacon was burnt, then we ran out of salt so I had to eat runny eggs that were bland, etc etc etc.

YOU (POTENTIAL RESPONSE #1): Surely one good thing happened this morning. Can you think of at least one good thing to tell me?

YOU (POTENTIAL RESPONSE #2): Man, you are CRANKY today! Maybe we should talk later after a happier version of you shows up.

YOU (POTENTIAL RESPONSE #3): Why don't you just end it all and put yourself out of your misery before things get any worse. (This only works with someone who can potentially realize how dramatic they're obviously wouldn't want to use this with someone who is frantic or on the edge!)

YOU (POTENTIAL RESPONSE #4): C'mon, I refuse to believe it's really that terrible. Tell me something positive that happened to you in the past 24 hours.

YOU (POTENTIAL RESPONSE #5): Sounds like somebody needs a nap!

YOU (POTENTIAL RESPONSE #6): (with KINDness and GENUINE concern) Bob, are you aware that you complain a lot? Sometimes it's hard for me to be around you because you complain so much.

YOU (POTENTIAL RESPONSE #7): I've found that when I focus on what's wrong, I get more of what I don't want. When I am able to let go of little annoyances like the things you've just mentioned, it creates a space for me to count my blessings. Have you ever thought about that?

YOU (POTENTIAL RESPONSE #8): Have you ever stopped to think what you're doing to attract all this into your life?

YOU (POTENTIAL RESPONSE #9): How does it make you feel when you tell me all this? If it doesn't feel good, stop doing it, and talk about something that makes you feel good! Because to be totally honest, it doesn't feel very good to listen to what you're telling me, so I'm thinking it probably doesnt' feel good for you to re-live all that frustration while you're telling me about it.

These are just a few suggestions you can use. They key to remember (if indeed you truly are attempting to ASSIST this person in thinking differently) is to use KINDNESS. People who are hyper-sensitive are not going to react well to #2, 3, 5 and 6. Someone who is an impatient, "get to the point" kind of person probably won't respond well to #7. Your boss probably won't respond in a way you'll like if you say #2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, etc. That's why you have to make it fit the person and the situation. These aren't "zingers" they are just ways to get the person's attention adn encourage them to change their thinking. That's the point, right?

If you have frequent, unavoidable contact with a Chronic Complainer, you can pre-plan some repsonses or openers for authentic conversations so that you're prepared instead of coming up with something on the fly or potentially chickening out and resorting to the old, ineffective methods (see a thru e above).

I'd love to hear your suggestions if you have other "reponses" to Chronic Complainers. Email them to me at or post a comment here.

Meanwhile, here is your question for today:

Do you have hte guts to respond differently to the Chronic Complainer in your life?


At 8:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 8:56 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 7:14 AM , Blogger yosemitenut said...

I loved your blog about Chronic complainers! I have a 21 yr old son who is one. He drives me crazy. I tend to ignore or walk out of the room when he starts in, otherwise he gets pretty ticked off. He complains about physical head hurts, my stomach hurts, I'm tired, I'm cold, I'm hot, I'm hungry..........yadda-yadda-yadda.....
He's done this his entire life. I pity the woman who ends up with him! He tends to look at life as the glass is half empty while I look at it as half full. What would you say to stop this man from CONSTANTLY complaining about how he is feeling? I'd rather not hear about it 24 hours a day!

At 1:25 AM , Blogger Amy S. Grant said...

Hi yosemitenut. PErhaps the simplest is this: to his every complaint, respond: "So, what do you plan to DO about that?" If he continues to complain, then follow up with this: "I hear you complaining about it, but I don't see you doing anything about it. Seems to me the complaining is not helping, and I'd rather not listen to it. But if you want help resolving the issues and feeling better, I'd be happy to help." He continues to complain because you tolerate his complaining. Put a stop to it and see what happens...

At 6:48 PM , OpenID juliagoolia829 said...

This is SO helpful! I LIVE with a chronic complainer. She used to be a very good friend of mine, but I've been using the avoidance method for the past month, and obviously, you're right, it's not working.
I plan on using one of these methods ASAP.
Thanks for your wisdom!

At 9:36 AM , Anonymous said...

so glad I found this blog! LOVED this article and had to share it; it really helped set me on the right path with the Chronic Complainer in my life. THANK YOU!! So well-written and extremely helpful!


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