4 Ways to Productively Deal With Whiners
Ugh!!! Would you please stop your incessant whining already?!?
If you ever had to use this phrase or wished you could, you are definitely not alone. An isolated complaint here or there is manageable, but some people in the office just aren't content unless they're complaining and whining constantly. Whether or not they have legitimate grievances, this outwardly annoying expression is their way of coping with whatever discontent they're experiencing.
Still, intentional or not, constant complaining takes its toll on office morale, and according to my Inc. colleague Minda Zetlin's insightful column, it may even cause brain damage to everyone within reach. Whining, which the dictionary defines as "complaining in a feeble or petulant way" takes the annoyance to a whole new level. To save your sanity, here are four proven ways to stop the whining and bring back office happiness (Note: none include drugs or physical violence).
1. Confront Them
It's very possible the whiners are unaware of the impact they have on the office environment. Take them to lunch and calmly explain the challenge. Show them empathy and even use a little humor about times you've been a whiner in your life so they are open to the feedback. Forego the niceties and tell them the truth about the mood they create in the office (it helps if you don't go alone). If you don't have the nerve to confront them face-to-face, then place a printout of this column or Zetlin's on their desk while they are away, with an anonymous sticky note asking, "Is this you?"
2. Resolve Them
Perhaps the whiners truly aren't being heard and their complaints are real. Support them and offer to help. You can suggest they figure out how to solve the issues themselves--and they just might--but most likely, emotional obstacles are making them feel powerless, leading to outbursts of frustration. Use camaraderie to empower them so they don't feel like they are trying to make change alone. Help them develop a plan to solve the problems and execute it together. In the best case, they'll feel resolved and the whining may stop. In the worst case, maybe they'll take their whining to someone else out of deference to your generosity.
3. Remove Them
If they are truly as unhappy as they purport to be, they probably are not a culture fit (unless of course your company has a core value of Be a Whiner). Help them seek career development elsewhere. Be a smart boss and use performance reviews to give them direct feedback with limited time to change behavior. Then you'll have legitimate reasons to fire those who don't reform. Plus, you will be a hero to the rest of your staff. No one should be subjected to a miserable work environment.
4. Isolate Them
If the whiners are a necessary evil in your company due to their rare skills or exceptional production, then you may have to find a way to separate them from the crowd. Telecommuting, a private office, or satellite office may be an option if their position warrants the expense. In a cubicle environment you can strongly encourage them to take the most isolated desk. But collaborative teams will still suffer. If the team just disassociates from the whiner, the offender may take the hint. Even so, you may as well follow tip No.1 and make the point boldly.
If none of the above options are viable, you can try and tune them out. Remember that you are ultimately responsible for your own experience, so you really should quit whining about them yourself, and just creatively resolve the issue head on. One company I know does this with humor. They require all public complaints to be delivered either in verse, in song, or with the use of sock puppets kept on the wall. It sounds ridiculous, but it sure lightens the mood, which is the whole idea.
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