The Worst Thing to Say to a Complainer

Some things you never forget. Quite a few years ago I was in the San Francisco airport after attending a three-day jam-packed National Speakers Association conference. Overwhelmed by all I had learned,  I was now at a tipping point in my career and not sure which direction to take. An industry icon and one of my mentors, Joe Charbonneau, was waiting there too for his plane. I began sharing my troubled thoughts with him – and complaining a bit (I admit it!).

Then he did something I’ll never forget. Joe went to the gate attendant and offered to give up his First Class ticket and reschedule for a later flight so he could continue listening to me.  He proceeded to share his wealth of insights and practical experiences along with encouragement. It was the last time I spent with him. Joe passed away a short time later.

Years later, in front of my family and friends, the National Speakers Association of North Texas surprised and honored me with the Jos. J. Charbonneau Award for outstanding credit, respect, honor and admiration in the speaking profession.

One thing Joe shared is that everyone is different and one “size” or solution does not fit all.  I had to develop my own strategy and stop comparing myself to others.  Great advice from a great man!

Are you sick of Complainers? Based on our research, there are five types of Complainers and one size or strategy does NOT fit all.

Here’s what doesn’t work with each Complainer type.

Actions That Don’t Work with Whiners:

  • Stop giving reasons their reaction is irrational. Whiners are not concerned with rational outcomes or the inconsistency of their actions. They want empathy, not logic.

  • The worst thing you can say: Venting along with them or solving their problem. Whining with them just encourages more complaining. On the rare occasion they accept and act on your suggestion, they will blame you if the result is bad. And, if the advice works, you now become their crutch for making their future decisions.

    Actions That Don’t Work with Complicators:
  • Stop telling them to be team players. Relationship appeals aren’t the best approach for these people. Excluding them from team meetings will backfire. They complicate and criticize solutions created in their absence.

  • The worst thing you can say: Asking them to have a better attitude. Encouraging Complicators to be more supportive of others isn’t a good strategy. Complicators are concerned more with being right and having correct systems than improving relationships.

Actions That Don’t Work with Prima Donnas:

  • Stop describing why their reaction is too extreme and excessive. Prima Donnas are more concerned with being heard than being discreet and calm. They love attention.

  • The worst thing you can say: Asking them to be rational and putting them on the spot. Logical reasoning isn’t the best approach with this relationship-driven personality type. Prima Donnas seek the spotlight, but they don’t want to be on the spot answering detailed questions.

Actions That Don’t That Don’t Work with Controllers:

  • Stop making excuses or finger-pointing. Controllers think people have the power to make things happen. If you avoid responsibility or don’t admit to your mistakes, it aggravates a Controller.

  • The worst thing you can say: Engaging in an aggressive counter defense. Don’t try to match Controllers in voice or body demeanor. Controllers are comfortable in verbal combat. They welcome the opportunity to engage and will probably win.

Actions That Don’t That Don’t Work with Toxics:

  • Stop describing why their reaction is causing problems with coworkers. Toxics care about one thing: themselves. They don’t care what other people think or the trouble they cause others. Toxics think only about another’s opinion when they have something to gain from them.

  • The worst thing you can say: Appealing to their ethics or sense of doing right. Toxics aren’t troubled by society’s moral values when they choose their actions. Their lack of concern for others enables them to act and achieve results, often without conscience or regret.

For strategies that DO work to Stop Work Drama, view this complimentary 15-minute webinar on the 5 Complainer types.

Joe Charbonneau didn’t tolerate Whiners and Complainers. In fact, he contributed to others … the opposite of complaining. I’m still very grateful to NSA North Texas for this great honor. I’ll do my best to contribute like Joe.

Journey On and No Complaints!

P.S.  Please check out my article on page 12 in this month’s Leadership Excellence magazine on how to convert Complainers to contributors.(Yep…that’s Deepak Chopra’s article right before mine. Wow! Talk about a man who is a contributor!)