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How to Deal with Chronic Complainers

Guest Contributor on Sep 14, 2016 11:46:24 AM

091416.pngPrime Advantage has invited industry experts to share insights on achieving manufacturing and business success. In this post, Karin Hurt, CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and author of Winning Well, discusses how to navigate through negativity in the workplace. 

I often start my speeches on employee engagement sharing prototypes of various kinds of disengagement. The audience favorite is always Betty Boatrocker-- "Her life feels like a sad country song, every little thing is wrong."


Nothing is ever quite right when Betty’s around. Adept at pot-stirring, she will suck the life out of the team. And when I ask what should be done about her? The audience usually says, “Fire her.”

I ask how many have a Betty on their team and almost everyone raises their hand, while chuckling. So obviously, it’s not that easy to fire Betty or more teams would do it right away.

No matter your industry or culture, you’ll deal with a Betty somewhere along the line. Here are five ways to deal with her (and other chronic complainers.)

5 Ways to Deal with Chronic Complainers

Let’s be clear—CHRONIC complaining is different than open dialog and employees expressing concern. You know the difference between those who care about solutions versus those that consistently make matters worse.

1. Speak Privately

What Betty wants more than anything is an audience. Don't let her hijack your meeting. Acknowledge the concern, but schedule time to talk later (in a limited-time slot.) Your team will thank you.

2. Listen Objectively

Honestly, the reason these Betty’s are so annoying is that they DO have a point. You know some of what they say is true. You may get some great insights even though you see the bigger picture, so pay attention.

3. Assign a Project

I swear this works. Get Betty involved in solving the problem, not just talking about it. Give her a chance to be an important part of the solution-building equation.

4. Consider your Body Language and Expressions

Are you appearing annoyed and mad? This will only reinforce her opinion that you don’t care. Guard against slipping into passive aggressive mode here. Betty is annoying, not stupid.

5. Fire Her

If you must, fire Betty not for complaining, but for the other complicating factors. All that miss-spent energy normally comes at a productivity price. Be sure to give ideas 1-4 a fair chance first, but also be documenting the side effects of the complaining. This will help you in the event you don’t feel you have a choice but to help her along to her next step in her career.

Karin Hurt has been a featured speaker for the buying group, Prime Advantage. Prime Advantage Members save on raw materials, components and services through the increased buying strength of group purchasing. 

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