How to Handle Chronic Complainers


You probably work with someone who complains a lot. Sometimes that can be hard to manage, even with team management tools. Watch Jennifer Bridges, PMP, to understand where chronic complainers are coming from, and learn strategies for keeping everyone happy and productive.

Here’s a screenshot of the whiteboard for your reference!

strategies for dealing with chronic complainers at work

In Review – How to Handle Chronic Complainers

Jennifer noted that we all have had experience with complainers. They’re negative. The glass isn’t just half-empty; it’s shattered in shards all over the floor.

It’s counterproductive to try to change their perspective because that’s what their negative attitude is—a perspective. Some people are born pessimistic, while others are born optimistic, and the truth is that neither is right or wrong. It’s just how one perceives the world. According to psychologists, chronic complainers have perceptions about their hardships that are deeply embedded in their personality and sense of identity.

Complainers tell everyone their problems all the time, but they’re not really seeking advice or solutions: they’re merely expressing a viewpoint. Unfortunately, that viewpoint can spread negativity to everyone they encounter, including your team, making it an issue that you must address.

Strategies for Dealing with Complainers in the Office

  1. Avoid Trying to Convince Them Things Aren’t That Bad: You’re not going to change their mind. All you’ll end up doing is creating an argument that adds to the stress and tension.
  2. Be Sympathetic, Then Redirect Them to Action: Acknowledge their concerns. They likely want validation more than solutions, so be sincere. Then, once they feel acknowledged, you can get back to business.
  3. Again, Don’t Offer Them Solutions: This cannot be stressed enough. They don’t want solutions, and, worse, you’ll pull yourself into an endless orbit around their problems. They’ll continue to come back to you, and eventually blame you if the issue they’ve been complaining about isn’t resolved after trying your proposed solution.

Sometimes the Complainer Is Right

Jennifer offered a word of caution. Sometimes the boy who cried wolf is telling the truth. That means even chronic complainers who you’ve shut off as white noise might have legitimate concerns. Don’t ignore them. You can leverage the complainer’s strength. Jennifer said that if you’re dealing with what she calls a “Dr. Disaster,” someone who always sees ruin around every corner, know that they can act as the canary in the coal mine to alert you to potential risk.

Related: Free Risk Tracking Template

It’s important to remember that you should never take their complaints personally because you’re not responsible for them. Also, be careful that their complaints aren’t too impactful. They can be like a contagious virus with the potential to contaminate your entire team. Therefore, keep them at a distance if they’re affecting you and others.

Pro-Tip: While dealing with chronic complainers is part of the solution, the other part is changing the ways you’re triggered by their behavior. For a more in-depth look at changing how you might be set in your ways, read Jennifer’s book, Optimize Your Thinking.

Thanks for watching!


Today, we’re talking about how to handle chronic complainers.

Well, if you’re on a project or lead a team, you’ve probably met this person, the one that says, “Well, I never get the promotion” or, “It’s just way too hard” or, “I’m always given the bad projects” or even, “This will never work.” Well, psychology today says that chronic complainers have perceptions about their hardships that are deeply embedded in their personality and their sense of identity.

So, therefore, there’s nothing that we can do to change that. They also say that they tell others about their problems all the time.

And, they’re not seeking advice or solutions. And worse yet, they spread their negative messages to everyone they encounter. Unfortunately, that could be your team.

So although we can’t change anything in their personality or their identity, there are some strategies that we can use to handle them if they’re on our project or team.

So first of all, try to avoid convincing them that things aren’t as bad as they seem. For instance, if you say, “Well, it’s not really that bad,” they’re going to say, “Oh, yes it is.” And they’re gonna continue to tell you the 100 reasons why.

Number two. Give sympathy. Then redirect them to action. So an example could be you could say, “Well that must be upsetting for you. Now, let’s go ahead and get to the meeting so we won’t be late.” Remember, they’re after sympathy not solutions so be sincere when you do offer sympathy.

And number three, try not to come up with solutions for them. Otherwise, they’re going to continue to come back, be dependent on you. And this also allows them to blame you.

So a word of caution is to be able to discern between chronic complainers and authentic complainers because sometimes their complaint is authentic, meaning it could be correct.

So if it is, it’s something that you’re gonna have to consider correcting.

But one other thing is to remember to leverage their strengths. I’ve researched a lot about this and written about it in my book called “Optimize Your Thinking: How To Unlock Your Performance Potential.”

I look at thinking styles and art types. So there’s one called “Dr. Disaster” who represents the thinking style of the pessimistic thinking.

The thing about Dr. Disaster on our project or our team is that they used to represent the pessimistic thinking. Sometimes they’re right. And what they’re concerned about are risk on your projects.

So once you start leveraging their strength, you can also begin to be planning better for the risk on your project. But remember to protect your energy and your time.

You’re not responsible for their complaints unless it is truly something wrong in your project that you have to handle.

Don’t let their complaints be contagious, it could destroy your team, and derail your project.

So keep them at a distance if they are affecting you.

So if you’re looking for additional resources on chronic complainers, then sign up for our software now at ProjectManager.

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