RSS Curbing the Chronic Complainer

We all whine or complain from time to time. It’s natural and allows us to get in touch with our “inner child.” I have observed over the years that the “inner child” of some individuals is needier than in others. You probably know the type: people who tend to complain about everything.  For purposes of this article, I want to draw some parallels between how parents deal with children who whine, and how we as supervisors deal with chronic complainers. I believe most adults complain out of frustration from a defeat or when a “loss” was unanticipated.

I don’t know about you, but dealing with individuals who seem to be defeated all the time can be a difficult task. It’s as if they have a heightened sense of entitlement or expect every outcome to benefit them personally. In my academic experience, I don’t remember reading that life was going to be easy, or that I should expect to always get what I wanted. Nevertheless, at times, it feels as if some people did get that type of education in school!

Okay, it’s not my intent to complain about chronic complainers. Rather, I want to suggest the way you deal with whiny children is the same way you deal with whiny adults.

Here are five ways we can guide the chronic complainers to break their habits:

    1. Deny Positive Reinforcement. The fact that some whine or complain more than others are because they have had that behavior reinforced in them over time. Once you cut off the supply of positive reinforcement (by denying the outcome most desired) the complaining will subside. It won’t be easy, but it works.
    2. Disguise Your Angst. Hide the fact that the complaining bothers you. If you think about children who whine a lot, they get bolder (and louder) when they see that their efforts are causing angst for their parents. This angst can lead to a parent “caving in” to the demands of a child. If you are the leader of a team with one or more complainers, it’s important that you not “cave in” to unreasonable demands simply to avoid the angst the complainer creates for you.
    3. Negotiate a Compromised Outcome. This helps the chronic complainer to realize that complaining does not create optimal results. Just like when dealing with children who whine, if you brainstorm positive ways to at the desired result, it will lead to positive outcomes.
    4. Impose Consequences for All Bad Behavior. Some children will react to the lack of effectiveness in their whining with other negative behaviors, such as having a temper tantrum. Likewise, complainers may resort to speaking badly about your effectiveness as a leader or the direction of your organization when they don’t get their way. Impose appropriate consequences for those behaviors without giving in to them.
    5. Be Consistent. Every time a child whines, we should react by stating that we cannot understand. This is true for the chronic complainer as well. They must be coached on how best to find their voice so that they become highly functional members of your team.

The most important point I want to make is that chronic complainers are not bad people. They simply lack the personal skills and/or discipline to deal with their frustrations in more a more positive way.  If you have a chronic complainer at your organization – or in your home – try these strategies, and let me know if you see improvement.

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2 Responses to “Curbing the Chronic Complainer”

  1. Chris Marks says:


    How would you address this when you are a line employee who is constantly having to endure disparate behavior from another line employee?


  2. Mitch says:

    Thank you very much for posing this question, Chris. Your dilemma is probably more common than we both might think. My personal opinion is that peers are open to developmental feedback when they share a mutually trustful relationship. When sincere trust exists, the feedback given is ultimately received as being helpful, not hurtful. The tricky part is knowing for sure that you have built that trusted relationship. If you have, I would recommend that you find time after work to share your “observations,” and discuss how they impact you. I would not venture so far as to state any negative impact to the entire team. Keep the comments from your personal perspective. If you have yet to build that trusted relationship, I would work on that first. Just remember, change takes time. Positive change takes longer. Good luck and let me know how it goes!


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Home About Archive Mitch HagstromMitch Hagstrom
Executive Vice President
Chief Banking Officer
Pacific Continental Bank

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