I was listening to Mary, my client, last week who was whinging about the fact that she is always apparently passed over for promotion at work – this being an ongoing complaint for her. However, it transpired that since our last meeting, Mary had done absolutely nothing pro-actively to try to remedy the situation. Somehow, she just expected a job promotion to happen automatically. Well, sadly no such luck.

Anyone who consults me, as a therapist, will know that I have little patience with people who refuse to take responsibility for themselves and their own future. They expect that everything will happen for them – as if by magic. Unfortunately, I am not a magician and I don’t do magic! But I am a dedicated proponent of ‘tough love.’

It is not that I like to lose clients but a therapist can only go so far to point the client in the right direction. As the proverb goes, ‘You can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink!’ seems appropriate in this context.

Fortunately, Mary doesn’t want to leave me and ‘tough love’ approach is what she says she is looking for. Then, if that is the case, she clearly has to fulfil her part of the bargain.

Whinging has a detrimental effect on others

‘Whinging’ is a synonym for ‘chronic-complaining’ and manifests as a pattern of negative communication to others. Not only is it not good for the person who is complaining but it is also detrimental to those around them as it can adversely impact on morale within the group.

And the result is that colleagues and friends will tend to keep away from them, if they can. We all prefer to be around people who are positive and energetic. Energy and positive action are infectious!

Individuals who are constant complainers are invariably those whose pattern of work and life is wholly reactive to circumstances around them. Instead of being proactive by identifying and analysing the problem then trying to find and implement a solution, they complain incessantly in the vain hope that something will happen as if by magic.

So how can you stop someone who complains every day about work, or home, or their spouse, or children, or the government, or just life in general?

Let’s look at some tactics that might be able to help deal with continual whingers.

Stage 1: Tactfully point out the behaviour to the person concerned. Often, people are unaware of their own behaviour and its impact upon others. However, it is very important to do this with sensitively and care as the person to whom you are speaking may feel that you are being unduly critical of them, their situation or their feelings. In other words, you need to show empathy towards them.

If you can do the above without them taking offence, then proceed to Stage 2 which is to mirror their negative comment. Not everyone is aware of what they say or how they sound to others. ‘I am not sure if you are aware of how you sound but this is what you seem to be continually saying’ I was wondering if you are aware that the topic of your conversation tends to be really demotivating to me and to the rest of the team?.

Stage 3: Try to expand the conversation with an open question, such as: ‘What do you think would help you to feel more positive about this matter and is there something that maybe I could do to help?’

Stage 4: Be direct and specific. Ask the individual what might bring about a resolution to the perceived problem? What plans do they themselves have to obtain a satisfactory solution? In other words, try to make the person directly accountable to themselves, for what they do, and what they fail to do in order to effect the change that they require.

Stage 5: Ask them to write their complaint down on paper. It is sometimes helpful for them to see it themselves in black and white and it may mean they won’t need to verbalise it to others. Finally, praise each step towards positive action that indicates a resolve to accept personal responsibility. If none of that works, then I guess you had better send them to me for some really ‘tough love’!

Key Points

  • Nobody really likes continual complainers
  • We need to be proactive in taking personal responsibility
  • Both negativity and positivity are infectious
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