4 Ways to Deal with the Constant Complainer

Posted on April 19, 2012.

It’s unlikely you can go too long in your management career without confronting the “whiner”.  These are the people that love to tell you everything you’re doing wrong, everything the company’s doing wrong, and everything anyone on your team is doing wrong. You’d love to find a way to get rid of them, but the reality is they're often your best workers.  What can you do short of picking up the phone every time they walk by your office?

It helps to start with recognizing the passion these people have for their work. If they didn’t care so much, they wouldn’t complain.  So try to find ways to channel the passion in a less negative way.

  1. Put them on a task force. Better yet, let them lead a task force. The next time they complain about something, ask them to lead a task force to try to fix the problem. Challenging them to take responsibility for what they think is broken should stop the criticism as they throw their energy into fixing the problem.
  2. Assign them as a mentor.  It may sound counterintuitive to have the biggest griper mentor a less experienced co-worker.  But the passion they have around their job and company sets a good example for a newer employee.  Just make sure you provide guidelines of acceptable topics and check in with the person being mentored to ensure a positive experience.
  3. Send them to training. Assuming your complainer is in fact a great employee, then reward them by getting them into classes they may be interested in taking. If you don’t offer it internally, there are tons of external resources. There is a direct correlation between job satisfaction and career development and growth. Training is a necessary step to that development.
  4. Provide constructive feedback. Closing your door or not answering their calls is the easy way out. But every time they complain without a solution, you need to tell them the behavior is unacceptable. Every time they complain about someone else in the office, remind them that it’s unprofessional and to focus on their own work.  Listening to the constant complainer without feedback is like enabling an addict. The behavior will never stop as long as you keep feeding it.

The first thing you have to determine with a constant complainer is if he or she is worth the effort to retain.  This type of employee is high maintenance. But if you can channel their negative energy into something positive, you could end up with a both a stellar performer and a more positive work environment.