After a while you start to avoid them… The “Debbie Downer”. The “glass half full” person. The one who always complains whether things are going well or not. A cloud of negativity swirls around them, and you don’t want to absorb it.
Here are 7 ways to deal with any chronic complainers in your life:
1. Ask them what outcome they want
A complainer over-focuses on what they don’t like about the situation and what they can’t control. They will blame other people and circumstances. Though it may be their attempt to deal with negative emotions, they are not using the power they have to change the situation. When you ask them what outcome they want, it requires them to stop focusing on what ‘feels bad’ and start putting their attention on what they want. That’s the first step to creating circumstances that ‘feel better’.
2. Guide them how to grow from the situation
Offer the complainer a new way of looking at their uncomfortable circumstances. Instead of stewing in their lack of control, give them a way of empowering themselves. Share the point of view that life happens “for you” not “to you”. Help them take a step back from the discomfort of the moment and see how the constraints of the situation offer them an opportunity to grow. How can they find a creative solution to the obstacle? What strength can they develop in themselves that would make the situation more bearable or even irrelevant? How can they look back on the challenging situation and see it as a blessing in disguise?
3. Tell them you choose to look on the bright side
You can maintain your own center by telling the person you choose to look at the bright side or sharing with them how you are coping positively with the situation. They are free to still focus on the negative aspects of the situation if they want, but you can be a good role model for them. Maybe they will be inspired to follow your example!
4. Ask them to come to you with solutions
If you are in a position to influence or ‘manage’ the person (e.g., if they report to you at work, or are your child or spouse), you can ask that person to come to you with solutions to their challenges rather than only complaints. Tell them you believe in their ability to find solutions. Let your direct reports know you’ll evaluate them on this ability, and tell your spouse and children how much you appreciate them for it.
5. Give them a finite time and space to complain
Women are built to process emotions in order to make meaning of the circumstances we face and to get over hardships. Some of us benefit from venting and complaining, or through physical expressions such as dance, making music, or other creative pursuits.
Feminist icon Regena Thomashauer has recommended ways to do this: Give yourself permission to “swamp” – turn on music that reflects your mood and move your body to express your full range of emotional states. (Pro tip: Do this with other women to make it much more fun and feel witnessed in your dark moments)
She also recommends women agree to “spring clean” – to hold space for one another to ‘let it all hang out’. In this exchange, each woman gives the other a finite amount of time to vent or complain (e.g., 3-5 minutes) without fear of judgment or trying to change the person to ‘think positive’. Often by talking through one’s pent up negative emotion, you can see options you didn’t when you were spinning in your complaints. Agree that once the timer is up you will both focus on what you are grateful for and turn to focus on creating the outcome you want in the situation.
6. Compliment them on their ability to complain
“You’re so good at complaining, can you teach me how to do it?!” A comment like this usually disarms someone who doesn’t realize they are steeped in negativity… It adds in a little light-hearted humor to break their pattern of complaints and shows them in a loving way that they have an alternative.
7. Express concern
A complainer doesn’t always realize they are complaining, they may be revealing something important about their current psychological state. If they are hopeless about having a better life they may be depressed. If they have a pessimistic outlook, they may see few options or feel overwhelmed at their ability to change their circumstances. If you see the person is not coping well with life’s challenges you can express your concern that they are suffering. Tell them with compassion that you care about their frustration or upset. Offer to help them if they are willing to problem-solve.
Bonus: Just because someone around you complains, you don’t have to absorb their negativity! Instead of being consumed by someone else’s cloud, try this: simply cross your ankles and your arms (this is a ninja way of closing off your ‘energy field’ to theirs). Decide who YOU want to show up as in the situation, and be HER! By staying connected to your power, you have the ability to create sunny weather for yourself and everyone around you.
The insights are, in part, the opinions of the writer.