Complainers are the worst! They always seem like they’re looking for things to complain about instead of doing their work. Complainers will stop at nothing to put down the company and the people who work there (including you when you aren’t around). I’ve even heard people complain about things that don’t affect them like non-coffee drinkers that complain the coffee machine is broken.
I know you know who I’m talking about. You probably have someone in your mind right now. They’re the people who always mention the day of the week when you awkwardly pass them in the hallway. You try to avoid them, but their dark cloud somehow always finds its way back to you. Your interactions with them always go something like this.
You: “Hi Keith. How are you?”
Keith: “It’s Monday.” *insert eye roll* or "It's Thursday, only one more day!" or “The dishwasher is broke…AGAIN.”
You: *Eyebrow raise and pressed lips while you quickly walk away*
They hate their job and are constantly working for the weekend, but even their weekend somehow always gets ruined and it’s always somebody else’s fault. Unfortunately, it’s easy for a lot of people to get sucked into the complaining vortex and the next thing you know, you’re mad and reciting some random political “facts” from a news article you read yesterday. Before that moment, you’ve never heard of it and you’re not going to take any action to help fix the problem, but you’re mad and “somebody” needs to fix it. Your complainer friend no doubt has an opinion on your news story too and there’s a lot of back and forth about what “they” (definitely not either one of you) need to do to fix it. And you look at the clock and it’s been 15 minutes and your morning is ruined because your blood is boiling, and you’re stressed out. Don’t worry, it’s happened to all of us.
Now that I’ve spent half a page complaining about complainers, I’d like to offer a couple solutions. I, like most people, have worked with my fair share of complainers but I always tend to be less phased by it than most. I’ve managed complainers and it’s a difficult path to maneuver. Next time you feel the pull to rant about something you have no personal knowledge of, try this course of action and see if it helps.
Does their complaint have merit?
We’re talking about known complainers here, but sometimes their complaints have merit. They may enjoy the complaining process a bit too much, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. You always want to treat every complaint seriously because it could be a symptom to a bigger problem. Never write someone off before you’ve heard them out.
Can you help or should they be finding the solution?
As managers, sometimes there are things that are out of our control and sometimes it’s up to the employee to fix their own problems. But if the complaint has validity, and you can help, then take it upon yourself to do something about it. If you can fix the problem that’s great, but if you can’t be sure to find an alternative or work around to suggest until you can find something better.
If you’ve done your homework and the complaint isn’t a priority or it’s something that you think shouldn’t be a problem, I’ve found the best course of action is to follow up with the complainer.
When you’ve found a great solution, this part should be easy. Everyone loves to deliver good news, right? Don’t be shocked if it isn’t “good enough” for the person who complained. If that’s the case, then most likely the person doing the complaining has a bigger issue that you may want to look into. Sometimes they have something going on at home and you may want to give them more freedom to come and go from the office. Other times, they may need more of a challenge or more recognition for their accomplishments.
People hate being “stuck” at work and not having a new challenge can give them reason to complain. Conversely, they could be overwhelmed and need some relief. Those are 2 very different issues and knowing which lever to pull could be the difference between gaining a team player or gaining a critic. You never want to pile on responsibility to someone who is overwhelmed or lighten the load for someone who is starving for meaningful work.
Sometimes, once you’ve investigated, you let them know you heard them and investigated their concern, but you don’t think it’s an issue. This will allow them an opportunity to plead their case. They may mention something you’ve never thought of that would change your mind. It also lets them know they were heard and that you took it seriously. If the complaint was frivolous,they may think twice about bringing it to you next time because they know you’re actually going to follow-up. Some complainers are just looking for a listening ear. By following up with them, not only will you show them you care, you’ll be able to discourage complaints that don't have merit in the future.
Following up with them and letting them know personally instead of through a third party will also be important to help you build trust. Complainers are skeptics by nature and think everyone is out to make their life harder. When you show you’re doing something about it(or tried to) it can go a long way in building that relationship.
Always keep in mind that everyone goes through difficult times at some point in their lives. Their complaining may be a cry for relief or an attempt at finding a common bond with their boss. Don’t take it too personally and focus instead on the problem instead of the problem announcer.
Now here is that flowchart I promised you: