Without completely ignoring them.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
I have a friend that likes to complain about EVERYTHING. Let?s call him L.
When the sun is up, L would complain, ? It?s so freaking hot, I?m sweating like hell!?
When it?s raining, L would grumble, ? This rain never stops! How am I suppose to do my laundry??
When the sky is cloudy, L would mutter, ? This weather just never gets better.?
Ok, now that the weather is perfect, L would still sighs, ? Why can?t our country have 4 seasons??
This is how our typical lunchtime sounds like when L is around.
? Why is our canteen so far away??
? Can?t the burger stalls sell more variety of food??
? His piece of chicken is so much bigger than mine! Lucky him!?
? It?s always so crowded here! Can?t they go to other places to eat??
? Are mayonnaise free nowadays? Why put so much on my burger??
There are always people like this in our life that wish to verbalize every single little dissatisfaction that comes to their minds.
No, they are not solely pessimists that see the bad side of everything. They are chronic complainers!
Guy Winch, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist wrote about the difference between optimists, pessimists and chronic complainers at Psychology Today.
Optimists see: A glass half full.
Pessimists see: A glass half empty.
Chronic complainers see: A glass that is slightly chipped holding water that isn?t cold enough, probably because it?s tap water even though I asked for bottled, and wait, there?s a smudge on the rim, too, which means the glass wasn?t cleaned properly and now I?ll probably end up with some kind of virus. Why do these things always happen to me?
At first, we always tried to comfort L that things were not as bad as it seemed. He?s just overreacting.
However, whenever we tried to deny his 10 words complaints, he will always respond with another 100 words complaint that usually began with: ? No, you don?t understand??
Slowly, we started to ignore his complaint because we know whatever we say, it?s not going to improve the situation nor make him stop complaining.
There?s one time where one of my friends got really frustrated with his complaints and yelled at him,
? Can you stop complaining about everything? Can?t you just shut up for a while??
? What?s wrong with you? Not like I?m complaining about you!? L replied.
While we all got a little nervous because of the tense situation, we were secretly admiring our friend. Finally, there?s somebody to shut him up!
No, we were wrong. L never shuts up, he?s still complaining about everything every day, we just have to get used to him.
How to deal with chronic complainers?
Unfortunately, there are situations where ?ignoring? is not the best way to deal with chronic complainers. You might get accused of being ?ignorant? and ?disrespectful? especially if the chronic complainers are your colleagues or family members.
So, how you gonna deal with people like this without completely ignoring them?
1. Don?t expect to ?correct? them
The first thing that you should know is:
All you can do is to make them shut up for a while, you won?t be able to make them quit complaining. Persuading someone to quit smoking will be easier than to persuade someone to quit complaining.
In Winch?s article, he states that
?chronic complainers do not usually see themselves as negative people? they see the world as being negative and themselves as merely responding appropriately to annoying, aggravating, or unfortunate circumstances.?
Since they don?t think they are wrong or negative, how you gonna ?correct? them? To them, there?s nothing wrong that needs to be corrected! You can try it if you insist, but I can assure you it won?t work!
2. Practice the art of being affectionately detached
Dandapani, a Hindu priest, international speaker, and former monk shared how he deals with people that are constantly ?not-uplifting?.
He described them as ?inherently an energy vampire? ? who are essentially different from the ?transient energy vampire? who are being negative for a short period due to certain incidents.
In the speech, he said,
?My guru taught me the best way to do this is to practice the art of being affectionately detached.?
?But always kind, gentle, sincere and loving towards them.?
If he knew a person is ?inherently an energy vampire?, he would never ask the person ?How are you??.
? Do you know why I don?t ask ?How are you??,? Dandapani asked.
?Because I don?t want to know.?
He explained, ?It?s true. You have to understand I?m in the monk business. When I ask somebody ?How are you??, they tell me their entire life store. It?s a confession time. So, I don?t even ask ?How are you??.?
But what if the person asks him ?How are you?? instead.
?I say, ? I?m doing very well, thank you very much.? And then I reply, ?What a beautiful day in Sydney.? It?s true. I?m being sincere, I?m being kind.?
?And then I say to him ?Please excuse me, I have something really important to do.? It?s true. My life is finite and I?m very clear what my purpose is. I?m not lying.?
Besides that, Dandapani also mentioned that people tend to end a conversation with sentences that don?t come from their hearts.
He gave examples:
? ?It was a pleasure meeting you.? Actually it wasn?t.
?Let?s do lunch? Why?
? See you later.? Not really, I don?t want to.?
?Why do we say the thing we don?t mean and ask the question we don?t want an answer to?? Dandapani questioned.
?At the end of the conversation, I say ?Have a wonderful day.? Which is true. I know he?s inherently an energy vampire but I do wish he has a wonderful day.?
That way, we saved our ears by being kind and sincere towards them.
Looking back at the conversations, he didn?t even give him a chance to start complaining, isn?t it?
3. Listen and acknowledge them
?Chronic complainers complain to those around them because they seek sympathy and emotional validation.? according to Winch.
Therefore, most of the time, simply agreeing with ? Yes, I think so too? or ? Yeah, I feel you!? can be the fastest way to stop their complaint.
However, mindless agreement at the workplace can be dangerous especially if the complaint is associated with a person or a task. You don?t wish to be dragged into an unwanted conversation next time that sounds like ? It?s not just me, *your name* agreed with me too!?
So, the best way to acknowledge them is by looking into their eyes and nods. Helpful phrases like ? I see? and ? Really? are better word choices compared to ?Yeah? and ? Right? to avoid mindless agreement.
By acknowledging without giving too much responds, they will eventually wear themselves out and stop their complaints.
4. Change topics
Hold your eyes! Rolling them won?t stop him from complaining. Go ahead and take control of the conversation, sail the conversation to the direction you want. If you worried that changing topics will just create another topic for him to complain, talks about something positive instead.
Since their intention was always to seek validation from others, it?s best if you talk about something that made him proud like his recent achievement. There, he will have nothing negative to say but busy bragging about his achievement proudly.
So, go ahead and flatter him. Replying with phrases like ?Wow?, ?Interesting?, ?Cool?, ?I?m so proud of you? and ?Fantastic? should keep the conversation goes a long way.
If you are not comfortable with him bragging about himself and can?t resist your eyes from rolling, you can take another approach. Ask him questions that require him to provide informative answers instead of emotional answers. A simple example will be ? How can I walk to the library??
Don?t ask a question that can be replied with a ?Yes.? or ?No.?
Don?t ask him ? What do you think about ??? or ? How?s your? going?? that will trigger his negative thoughts.
5. Stay positive
Chronic complainers will always find their chance to complain and you can never avoid them completely. Even if you asked, ? How can I walk to the library?? They can still reply with ? Speaking of the library, our library really sucks??
So, when you can?t change others, change yourself.
Think positive. Be grateful for what you have.
? I?m so glad my life is better than him!?
? Maybe he felt better after complaining, glad I heard him out!?
While you can?t completely run away from the chronic complainers that are your family members or people you need to work with, you can always take a break from them. Skip a meal with them or tell them you are not feeling well and can?t talk much today.
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