Nobody likes a Whiner. Laugh the world laughs with you; whine and you whine alone. Whiners feel helpless and overwhelmed by an unfair world. Their standard is perfection, and no one and nothing measures up to it. But misery loves company, so they bring their problems to you. Offering solutions makes you bad company, so their whining escalates. In Dealing with People You Can't Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst, Dr. Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner write about how to deal with people that behave like Whiners.
Form a problem-solving alliance. Brinkman and Kirschner write the following:
"If you must deal with Whiners, your goal is to team up with them to form a problem-solving alliance (and if that doesn't work, then your goal is to get them to go away!). The difference between a problem solver and a Whiner is in the way each approaches a problem: The problem solver look at the problem with an eye toward finding solutions; the Whiner look at the problem, feels helpless, and then generalizes that the problem is worse than it actually is. So the best you can do with someone who is constantly complaining, and for everyone around him, is to work with him to diminish his feelings of helplessness by helping him to identify solutions. Done consistently through time, this strategy can sometimes cure the Whiner once and for all. As the feeling of helplessness diminishes, so does the need to whine."
Do's and Don'ts for Dealing with Whiners
Brinkman and Kirschner provide a set of Do's and Don'ts for dealing with Whiners.
- Don't agree with Whiners, as it just encourages them to keep cmplaining.
- Don't disagree with them, as they will feel compelled to repeat their problems.
- Don't try to solve their problems for them -- you can't.
- Never ask them why they are complaining to you about their problems. They hear this as an invitation to start all over again from the beginning.
- Do have patience with their impossible standards and seemingly endless negativity.
- Do have compassion for the poor complainers whose lives are beyond their control.
- Do have commitment to the lengthy process of getting them to focus on solutions.
Brinkman and Kirschner provide prescriptive guidance for dealing with a Whiner:
- Listen for the main points. The last thing you want to do is listen, but that's just what you need to do with the Whiner. Listen with pen and paper to catch the main points of the complaint.
- Interrupt and get specific. Take command of the conversation through a tactful interruption, and ask for your Whiner's help. Then ask clarification questions to get to the specifics of the problem, because vague problems are rarely solvable.
- Shift the focus to solutions. Because Whiners often complain in vague, cascading generalizations (e.g.,"It's all wrong. But even if it wasn't nobody cares."), they don't stand still with any one problem long enough to stand a chance at problem solving. Once you begin to get specific about each complaint in turn, Whiners find themselves face-to-face with specific problems.
- Show the Whiner the future. When people have been feeling helpless, it is helpful to give them something to look forward to. If solving the problem they've brought to your attention turns out to be your responsibility, then you must keep your Whiners informed about progress.
- Draw the line. If backtracking, clarifying, and asking for a direction has not produced any real change in the Whiner, drawing the line becomes necessary. If your Whiner gets back on a roll with complaining, and it sounds like it isn't going to stop, take charge of the situation and bring it assertivelyto a close.
A common theme in dealing with negative behaviors is to build rapport and stay focused on solutions, and allow time for the process. Here's my key take aways:
- Use active listening. Use active listening by paraphrasing and echoing points that you hear. You don't have to agree with the points. This helps show understanding and helps clarify points.
- Allow time for the process. Don't rush results. You need to establish rapport before you can influence influence.
- Stay focused on solutions. Chunk the problems down. The Whiner might feel overwhelmed because they've magnified problems. Solving a few right-sized problems will help build momentum.
- Pair with them on solutions. Sometimes a Whiner just needs new perspective or some support, and then they too can switch into problem solving mode.