Five Tips to Help You Quiet the Chronic Complainer in Your Life by Lisa Fields
by Lisa Fields
The problems start when complaining becomes the default mode. “When we have a need to be heard, we repeat ourselves. We become more emphatic,” says Dian Killian, PhD, a New York City-based life coach.
This behavior could be hardwired, since it does seem that those who complain frequently don’t realize that they do. Robin Kowalski, a psychology professor at Clemson University in South Carolina and one of the first researchers to study complaining, says the satisfaction for chronic complainers comes from attention.
“Even if it’s negative attention,” she says, “they’re OK with that.”
This is why some Negative Nancies (or Neds) are never satisfied with any suggestion to address the problems that they highlight—resolution isn’t their aim.
So, how do you get a chronic complainer to scale back, for the sake of your health and his?
…Change the subject
Some complainers will switch gears if you shift the conversation in a direction that interests them. If your neighbor is fussing over the phone company, tell her about an unexpected call you received from an old friend. If your coworker is bellyaching about your boss, ask whether he met the new employee.
This tactic is especially effective on those who are mindlessly venting, and you can keep using it. “Don’t just try it one time,” Kowalski says. “Get them off the focus that they’re currently on.”
…Challenge the person to act
When a chronic complainer tells you about her latest problem, ask nicely what she’s done to improve it. This isn’t the usual direction a grievance-laden conversation takes, and it may help to abruptly end a rant.
“Typically, it’s not about a strategy to fix it—they just want to keep talking about it,” Kowalski says. “If you break that pattern, it puts them off guard, and people typically stop.”
…Have a heart-to-heart
When it’s someone very close to you—your partner, sibling, or best friend—who stresses you out with a barrage of negativity, it’s important to talk about the problem. Otherwise, if you bottle up your feelings and continue listening to repeated complaints, you may grow resentful or start avoiding the person.
Broach the topic gently. Rather than pointing a finger at the other person, focus on the effect it’s having on you. “You’re still acknowledging the other person’s behavior,” Kowalski says, “but it’s being done in terms of ‘I’ and ‘me’ rather than ‘you.’ ”
Confronting a chronic complainer about his habit can be beneficial to both of you.