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WONDERING … How to Squelch Complainers?

Every day is a contest to see who can complain the most. I’ve been clear that I don’t want to be part of a Complainers’ Club, but it’s hopeless. Not an hour goes by without somebody telling me something that’s wrong. I know a positive culture has to start at the top, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Is there a way to stop constant negativity?


What did you expect? They’re all idiots! Oh, wait – that was negative, wasn’t it?

Instead, let’s try understanding – and you get some first. Your concern is valid and shows constructive team awareness. Employees who want to change a negative culture know that their organization and their own livelihood will benefit from a shift in attitude. You’re worth more to your organization than an employee who’s guided by negativity.

Complaining is hard work. Workers who slog through negativity leave work exhausted and show up the next day asking, “What else will go wrong to make me unhappy?” Their agenda doesn’t include meeting team needs or finding creative energy to solve challenges.

Before we talk about solutions, however, you get a mild scolding. You said, “…it’s hopeless.” Yikes! Is that a negative complaint? From the person who wants to eliminate negativity? Before you undertake being a change agent for the positive, please sit down and literally re-write that sentence to reflect the positive attitude and commitment that your overall question implies. Really. Write your concern in a positive tone before you address the problem. Now we can talk about solutions.

Start with reminding yourself that complaints are positive because the person bringing the complaint thinks the situation will improve if the right person hears their concern – and they further suspect that you might be the right person! Those are positives!

As for the tone that makes complaining so annoying, you may choose how to respond. You decide whether to let a negative voice shape your day. When somebody tells you what’s wrong, thank them for wanting to improve the situation. To win over complainers, you must give them respect. ~~ What?? You just said that you don’t respect complainers and silly Accidental Career is telling you to give complainers your respect? Exactly! A complainer’s problem is that they don’t think their point of view is respected, so they have no tool other than complaining. To show them how to use more positive tools, you begin by showing them respect.

When you say, “I don’t want to listen to that,” it makes them ‘wrong’ and they’ll repeat the complaint more forcefully to make themselves feel ‘right.’ When you ask, “What are you doing about it?” you let them know that you aren’t on their team. So your tactic is to let them see that you care about them while maintaining organizational respect. Your question is, “What do you think we can do to help our organization get stronger?”

Why say ‘we’ when it’s ‘their’ problem? To let them feel the power of a team. If you don’t express interest in hearing a solution, then the complaining mind makes you part of the problem – and the logical target of complaints to beat down your opposition.

You aren’t responsible for fixing the complainers, but it is your job to be a positive example and keep the path clear if they are willing to fix themselves. Some people complain that the rungs on the ladder to success hurt their feet!

This is a fork in the road – do they have an idea for a solution? If they respond with a positive suggestion, you praise them for positivity and encourage their leadership. If they can’t or won’t be solution-oriented, then they either lack creative leadership ability or they complain just for the pleasure of hearing their own whine. Don’t waste time arguing about their point of view; simply acknowledge their feelings – their feelings, not their negativity – and shift focus to something positive.

“I can see that you’re concerned about that. It must be frustrating. Let’s keep thinking about a way to make it better while we work on our other projects. We can let each other know if we get any helpful ideas.” You’ve let them feel heard without jumping into their pit of despair.

The Complainers’ Club recruits unhappy members to meet regularly and discuss their discontent. Since you know they’re easy to recruit, your job is to invite them to a meeting of the Positivity Club. Anybody who’s ever joined a club knows that fun meetings are the first thing we look for. Instead of complaining about the complainers, just plan a better meeting and let them join you.



WONDERING … Which boss to satisfy?

When my direct supervisor wants me to do a particular job and the manager comes along right behind him and wants me to do his job instead (it’s pretty clear they’re having a power struggle), do I ask my immediate supervisor what to do first or go along with the higher-ranking manager?


Can you just tell ‘em to arm wrestle for your services?

Before addressing your two seemingly uncaring bosses, a note of caution: Be careful not to see either party as ‘more right’ or ‘easier to work with.’ If you start favoring somebody because of personal feelings, you risk of hurting your organization and your own stature within the organization.

The proper work to do is whatever the organization needs first – which is likely related to the question of who has more authority, but isn’t absolutely determined by that authority.

That said, you’re on the right track with asking your supervisor to help you prioritize.

But that still leaves you in a potential no-win situation if there’s a power struggle going on. The loser of that battle will splatter blame on you when they’re working to discredit the other person.

Instead of letting yourself be placed in the position of making a choice based on their relative authority, you might use the ‘take a number’ system. Whoever spoke first – even if only by a millisecond – gets your priority. And you politely tell the other that you’ve already been given a job with a ‘do it now’ command and if they need to change your priority, THEY need to consult with the person who gave you the first job and have THAT person tell you the priority has changed.

When they’re together, tell them nicely but directly that it makes you uncomfortable to feel in the middle of conflicting instructions and ask them to please get together to decide how the tasks are to be prioritized, then let you know their decision.

If they’re really manipulating you to gain advantage over the other, it’s important for you to decline to be a pawn in their game. You’d be justified in turning their problem behavior over to a higher level authority and asking for help in defining organizational policy so that you have clear and formal guidance on how to appropriately respond to conflicting instructions from two authority levels. Of course, if the one who doesn’t get his way is mired in childishness, they’ll still blame you, but at least you’ll have a referee’s decision to refer to.

All of that is in the short-term category and addresses the failure of two adults to communicate and cooperate so that you don’t get put in that sort of a bind. Your long term solution is to show interest in the aims and needs of both individuals and find out how you can ‘get ahead of the curve’ and train them to invite you into their advance planning so that you can more appropriately plan and pace your work load to meet organizational needs without urgent ‘do my job now’ demands.

That’s the solution that will get you out of their conflict and into a leadership posture. If the power struggle you’ve described continues, then your organization is in desperate need of somebody to show true leadership. It might as well be you.