The constant negativity issuing forth from chronic complainers presents a huge challenge for those around them. Trying to remain positive, motivated and productive amid a constant stream of complaints and dissatisfaction can try anyone's patience.
Trying to be helpful will always backfire. Nothing makes chronic complainers happier, than being more miserable than their friends.
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 its tap water when I asked for bottled water 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?!
Following are three essential survival tips that can help those who deal with chronic complainers manage a very difficult situation.
Understanding the Chronic Complainer Mindset
Despite how difficult their constant complaints are for those around them, chronic complainers do not usually see themselves as negative people. Rather they perceive themselves as forever being on the losing end of things, as drawing the short straw on a daily basis. Therefore they see the world as being negative and themselves as merely responding appropriately to the annoying, aggravating or unfortunate circumstances of their lives.
Even those chronic complainers who do recognize their prodigious complaining output truly believe their unlucky lot in life more than justifies their expressing their dissatisfactions to those around them because after all, it is they who have been saddled with terrible misfortune and more problems than most.
Survival Tip #1: Do not try to convince a chronic complainer things are 'not as bad' as they think they are or suggest they are 'over-reacting' to events and situations. Doing so will only compel the chronic complainer to mention ten additional complaints, dissatisfactions and misfortunes you have not yet heard about and that might give you a better understanding of how terrible their lives actually are.
Understanding What Chronic Complainers Want
Chronic complainers complain to those around them because they seek one thing-sympathy and emotional validation (you can read instructions about how to provide emotional validation like a champ here). In other words, they want you to validate their experience, to tell them that indeed their glass was chipped, that ye, they were given tap water rather than bottled water and that in fact, they should probably get a good night's sleep so they can ward off whatever nasty germs were embedded in that nasty smudge on the rim.
Survival Tip #2: The quickest way to extract yourself from a complaining soliloquy or shorten their grumble-a-thon is to validate their feelings, express sympathy (which must sound authentic or it will not do the trick. See how to be empathic here) and then redirect them to the task at hand. For example, "The printer jammed on you again? Gee, that's incredibly annoying! I know it's hard to shrug off those kinds of things but I hope you can be a trooper because we really have to get back to the Penske file..."
Understanding what Chronic Complainers Don't Want
Most chronic complainers truly see their lives as being ones of hardship and constant challenge. (Some people's lives are actually full of hardship or tragedy but I refer here to regular people whose lives are not unusual in that regard). Chronic complainers' perceptions about their hardships are deeply embedded in their personalities and in their sense of identity. Therefore, although they tell others about their problems all the time, they are not really looking for advice or solutions when doing so.
Even when your advice is terrific, useful, and would actually resolve the problem for them, chronic complainers will not be especially happy to hear it. Anything that takes away the public recognition of their 'hardship' is something they experience as threatening to their identity and even to their sense of self. Therefore they often respond to sound advice either by explaining why the suggestions won't work, or by actually becoming upset that the person offering it doesn't understand how unsolvable their problem actually is.
Survival Tip #3: In the majority of situations (there are some obvious exceptions), you should avoid offering advice or solutions and stick to sympathy and emotional validation.
However, even chronic complainers can encounter authentic problems and real complaints. In such cases, when their distress is warranted, offer sympathy followed by brief but pointed advice and it will probably be accepted and appreciated.
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Copyright 2011 Guy Winch
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