I come from a long line of complainers–the type of folk who consider it a pastime to moan incessantly about life.
I therefore know firsthand how draining it can be to be around such negative energy.
Unfortunately, sometimes, we have no choice but to deal with certain people.
Complainers can be our colleagues, our bosses, our spouses, or in my case, family members.
Over the years, I’ve developed some effective techniques for dealing with the complainer.
Once you learn to handle them with understanding, empathy, and diplomacy, you can make their presence far more tolerable.
Let’s get to it!
1) Listen actively
Sometimes, complainers just want to be heard.
They might feel overlooked by society, which only reinforces their bitter energy.
Since they feel nobody’s really listening anyway, they don’t often hold back on the cynicism.
So next time, throw them a curve ball by giving them your full attention–and treating them like a person deserving of it.
This will help them feel acknowledged and accepted rather than ignored.
They will likely be blindsided and touched by your compassion and ability to listen.
Expect their disposition to eventually reflect that.
Let’s discuss empathy a bit more…
2) Show empathy
Believe it or not, behind the pessimistic energy, there’s often some truth to what the complainer has to say.
They just tend to be a little rough around the edges.
So instead of being dismissive and creating more bad blood, express empathy by validating their perspective and emotions through thoughtful feedback and gestures.
In these situations, some of my favorite phrases include: “I’m sorry you had to go through that,” “I can see how that could be a hassle,” or “I would be reacting the same way.”
3) Set boundaries
Once a complainer finds someone willing to put up with them, the tendency is to push the envelope.
They often end up using that person like a doormat, as if they’re their perpetual scapegoat for discontent.
The thing is, you giving them an outlet is in itself already an act of kindness; so don’t let them take further advantage.
You’re better than that.
If this sounds familiar, realize that it’s time to set boundaries.
Sure, you can humor them every now and then when they need to blow off steam.
But when their complaints start affecting you negatively and adding unnecessary stress to your day, it’s high time you let them know.
Use constructive statements like “While I’m here to listen, let’s not dwell on the past, let’s focus on finding solutions instead.”
This brings me to my next point…
4) Encourage problem-solving
Harping on about the past is almost always the complainer’s default setting.
But you and I both know that we can’t change the past–this is just basic physics.
Hence, ruminating to oblivion won’t be doing you any favors. In fact, the latter is an incredibly unhealthy and counterproductive practice.
Think about it: if you’re a chronic complainer, you might get so caught up thinking about what could’ve been, you lose the energy and motivation to find solutions.
So when dealing with a complainer, shift the tone of the conversation to be more solutions-oriented and proactive, offering support and assistance where necessary.
The pandemic was a rough time for me.
My once-thriving business accumulated a ton of debt.
Being the CEO, the creditors aggressively went after me.
My days consisted of getting threatening calls or demand letters, stressing out, and then complaining to anyone who would listen–typically my parents.
What started out as understandable venting morphed into a toxic loop of endless self-pity and anger.
To my parents’ credit, they were sympathetic listeners. But looking back, the intensity of my complaining became over the top… and highly redundant.
Soon, they had had enough of my crap.
They talked me into thinking of solutions; instead of going in circles and beating myself up over my past blunders.
Rather than just consoling me, they began actively helping me brainstorm out-of-the-box and systematic ways of solving my problems.
Long story short, three tough but educational years later, I am mostly debt-free, with far fewer complaints per week.
5) Suggest positive thinking
Sometimes, we get so deep into our habits that we don’t realize how detrimental they’ve become.
Excessive complaining, for instance, is a terrible habit.
In most cases, the complainer simply needs an objective party to set them straight.
So if there’s a complainer in your life, perhaps you should push them to see things in a more optimistic light.
To see the bigger picture.
To stay mindful of the good things in their life rather than dwell on the bad.
Over time, this mentality will help them feel less overwhelmed, with renewed perspective.
Going back to my pandemic-induced troubles, it’s safe to say that I lacked clarity at the time.
I was so mentally intertwined with my own issues that I took for granted the many positives that remained in my life.
I neglected my relationships with loved ones; I neglected the fact that my situation, while not ideal, was also not the end of the world–that there were countless people in my vicinity dealing with far worse issues like hunger, crushing poverty, death, and disease.
Had I taken into account how minuscule my issues were in the greater scheme of things, I am certain that I would’ve coped more efficiently.
Live and learn.
6) Avoid joining in
Remember, misery loves company.
By joining in on the bitching, you’re only enabling their bad behaviors.
So if they bait you into complaining alongside them, don’t fall into the trap.
Consciously steer the conversation in a more productive direction.
Perhaps you can share your own relevant life experiences.
Or you can simply change topics, however superficial–ask their interpretation of the latest episode of American Horror Story, or about their thoughts on the new NBA season, if that’s their thing.
This can serve as a reset button, breaking the cycle of cynicism whilst also subtly communicating your boundaries.
Life is short. You don’t want to spend your days having to painstakingly deal with the Downer Dans and Negative Nancys of the world.
It’s one thing being a decent friend or relative–but being reduced to their doormat is something you shouldn’t put up with.
Having said that, try the above approaches first.
Who knows, the person in question may not even be aware of the extent their attitude affects others.
And if this doesn’t work, then perhaps it’s time to reevaluate, I mean really reevaluate, the relationship.
Once the constant complaining becomes too toxic and has detrimental effects on your well-being, for instance, consider it time to walk away.