I have a feeling I’m particularly intolerant of people who moan and whinge. It drives me round the bend. It’s the negative, glass half empty thing, with which I can sympathise fully until someone persistently pours it over me. I’ll tell you what really frustrates me about it. It’s the fact that while someone is focused on moaning and complaining, they’re not getting on with doing something about it. We can all have a quick moan about things and then get on and make the best of it. The people I’m talking about here are the ones who do the moaning a bit like a stuck record and never progress to the sorting it out stage. So in fact they’re making the whole situation worse by failing to resolve it. Almost every tricky scenario can be improved – if not entirely resolved – but only if you take action. Moaners couple their complaining with inaction.
Obviously complainers can be useful in bringing problems to your attention – like negative people (of whom they are a subset), they sometimes speak for the team or the family or the group, and can be the first to alert you to a problem that needs addressing.
However, moaners don’t want to use their initiative to make things better. They want you to sort everything out, rather like a child – indeed they may still be a child, in which case your job as a parent is to encourage them to find solutions instead of just complaining. Before they grow up to inflict their whingeing on anyone else.
Looking back over years of jobs and friends, I can’t recall a complainer who really embraced the concept of change. Moaners don’t like change, and that’s often at the root of their whingeing. They resist it, which is why they don’t want to proceed to the problem-solving stage, because that would require them to accept some kind of new or adapted approach. That’s not what they want.
So the way to cope with a complainer is partly to reassure them about the change – it’s not so bad or so big as it looks; or see how it’s going to make life better, simpler, easier – and give them a moment for this to sink in. Longer if it’s a big change. If you’re telling the kids that you’re moving house, don’t expect them to absorb it in half an afternoon.
Then get them to focus on the solution. Never mind repeating why they don’t like it, ‘What are you going to do about it?’. Or get them to visualise and buy into it: ‘Your new bedroom will be bigger than this one, and we’ll need to decide what colour to decorate it.’ Get them to take a stake in the solution if you can.
Moaners often feel disenfranchised – in companies they are frequently the ones who view their team as a second family and protect it fiercely. If it’s changed from above (as they see it), they feel powerless to protect it. So getting them to accept an active role in the process – whether it’s restructuring the department or just moving the stationery cupboard further down the corridor – will reassure them. As well as, hopefully, shutting them up.
The Rules of People by Richard Templar, is out now, published by Pearson, priced £10.99. For more information see: http://www.pearsoned.co.uk/bookshop/detail.asp?item=100000000649236