By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor
Do you know people you can envision lobbying for a grievance department in Heaven to complain about the perfect weather? Or, if they won a million dollars, they would let the amount of tax they owe take away their excitement? If so, then you know a constant complainer.
They walk around with a storm cloud above them ready to rain on your day, too. How can you graciously handle the constant complainer in your life?
Should you offer advice to complainers when you’re certain you have the answer they need?
Is it best to offer them sympathy or encouragement?
How can you empathize with complainers without adding fuel to their fire?
How to Graciously Handle a Constant Complainer
We all know a few constant complainers. Years ago, I worked with a co-manager who I’m almost sure will be the person lobbying for that complaint department in Heaven.
There’s another person, an acquaintance, whom I had not seen in about five years. In the past, I had been stuck in too many conversations with her in which she seemed unable to control sharing her litany of complaints about others and her “woe is me” attitude.
A few weeks ago, I looked up at a party and saw her waving to me from across the room. I was spotted. There was nothing to do but walk towards her and say, “Hello!”
I was optimistically hoping that the last five years had made her less pessimistic. No such luck. Thirty seconds into our conversation, she was eager to fill me in on half a decade’s worth of intimate details of her minor yet personal health concerns, the troubles she is experiencing in her relationship with her young adult daughter, and her ex-husband miseries.
How do we interact graciously with negative Neil or Nellie without rudely ignoring them and their problems? In combination with this post, you’ll also want to use the etiquette of these two posts, Good Manners for Goodbyes and How to Excuse Yourself From a Talkative Person. In addition to those tips, here you’ll find the etiquette for the next time you find yourself cornered by a consummate complainer.
The Top 5 Etiquette Tips for Graciously Handling Constant Complainers
1. Express a few words of sympathy, but only a few.
You want to acknowledge the people’s feelings or situation without adding fuel to their complaining.
“I’m sorry to hear that your daughter isn’t visiting you as much as you’d like.” Or, “It’s awful that you’re still not feeling well.”
2. Offer words of encouragement.
“I bet your daughter will understand how much you worry about her when she doesn’t call once she has children of her own. So often, until someone has experienced something, they can’t understand the importance someone else places on it.” Or “It sounds like you have a great team of doctors and that you’re taking the right steps to deal with your medical problems.”
3. Share information that might be helpful.
Information is different from advice. Information is facts that anyone can check for accuracy via another source. Information doesn’t come directly from us.
Advice is someone’s counsel based on personal feelings or experience. Constant complainers aren’t moved by experiences that aren’t their own, and you’ll get exasperated that they never take your advice. It’s best to save it for where it will be appreciated; however, feel free to share information.
“I know the name of a local therapist who has an excellent reputation for dealing with family stress. She’s often quoted in the media.” Or “My next door neighbor had great success with his gastroenterologist. His doctor is board certified and has had two articles published in medical journals. I could text my friend and ask for his doctor’s contact information if you’d like.”
4. Don’t try to solve their problems.
For lots of us, myself included, our instinct is to want to share advice and try to solve others’ problems. “Why don’t you try this or that?” is our initial response.
Others of us are eager to share stories of people who are much worse off, to show the complainers that they have no reason to complain. “I know a woman recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. It makes us see that our problems aren’t so bad, don’t you think?”
Sadly, constant complainers are self-absorbed and eager for attention. They almost never allow reason, common sense, or the situations of others to change their thoughts, feelings, or actions. It only prolongs the conversation, allowing them more time to keep you in their fog of doom and gloom.
5. Lead them to their answer.
Since they’re probably not open to your ideas, the best way to graciously handle constant complainers is to try to lead them to find their answers by asking questions that get them thinking in new directions.
“Leon, what options do you feel you have in convincing your boss you’re the best candidate for the promotion?” Or, “Donna, what do you think is going to need to happen before your daughter decides to communicate with you?”
After hearing their ideas, offer them encouragement. “Donna, from what you just shared with me, it seems you’re close to figuring out what to do.” Then begin to change the subject or end the conversation following the steps in How to Excuse Yourself From a Talkative Person.
These tips are for use with individuals with whom the extent of our relationship is to be the doormat for their complaints. However, everyone occasionally needs a caring ear to air their grievances, sadness, fears, or feelings of inadequacy in a particular area. When friends come to you, be honored. It means they feel safe, respect your ideas, and trust your judgment. The price we pay for having friends is to be a great one when we’re needed!
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Until next time, keep doing what only you can do. Bless the world by being you at your authentic best!