Seven Tips For Turning Complaints Into Productivity

“The ones who miss out on the fun are the ones who say, ‘It can’t be done’.”

You’ve got a job. You’re paid to do it. You’re a professional.

All is well — until you find out there’s a bunch of complainers at work. They’re constantly, whining, griping, nagging, and picking.

At first, it’s no big deal. You decide to just ignore them. But they don’t stop. Their complaining begins to irritate you; they bring you down, and eventually you wonder how much longer you can take it before you look for another job.

Don’t do it! Don’t let the complainers determine your destiny. You can take charge; take action, and turn the complainer towards more productive behavior. Try these tips.

=> 1. Start With Your Own Attitude.

If you think of a complainer as a pain in the neck, if you approach him as the enemy, you’ll arouse his natural defenses. He’ll get more firmly entrenched in his negative behavior.

By contrast, if you approach the negative person with a warm and friendly demeanor, the negative person doesn’t feel the need to fight back.

Lincoln knew this. A woman asked Lincoln why he continued to speak kindly about his enemies instead of destroying them. He said, “Madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

=> 2. Use An Imaginary Glass Screen.

The moment you see or hear someone spouting off some negativity, imagine a glass screen coming around you. Imagine the glass screen rebuffing all the negative, allowing only the positive to flow through. You will find that you can continue to converse and stay involved with those around you, but you won’t be affected by their negativity. I know it sounds silly, but it works!

=> 3. Create A Climate Where The Complainer Feels Heard.

Constant complainers often go on and on because they feel no one is listening. If you really listen, you may surprise, and possibly quiet, the complainer.

While the complainer is talking, refrain from argument. Don’t argue about what’s good or bad or who’s right or wrong. If you have to say something, just rephrase what you heard to see if you really understood it. If someone is complaining about the lack of fairness in the workplace, you could say, “So you think some people get more privileges than others. Is that right?”

=> 4. Then Ask Lots Of Questions.

You can show interest in what the complainer has to say by asking for more information. Ask such things as, “How did this happen? What else can you tell me? And how do you feel about the situation?” And ask him what he has done to fix the situation.

You could also question the validity of the complainer’s complaint. You’ve heard the expression, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.” Likewise, when you hear someone go on and on about how bad things are or how bad it’s going to be, simply say, “It’s too bad to be true.” More often than not you’ll be right.

=> 5. Avoid Active Or Passive Agreement.

Even if you believe the gripe is valid, be careful about saying so out loud. The complainer will be glad to have the company of another complainer. He’ll be encouraged to complain even more if you reinforce him by saying he’s right.

On the other hand, beware of silence. The complainer might interpret your silence as passive agreement. If you disagree, do so — warmly, firmly, professionally. You don’t want him to mistakenly claim you as an ally just because you’re silent.

=> 6. Move Toward A Solution.

Ask the complainer what she wants done. Ask, “How do you suggest we solve this problem? Notice the emphasis on “we.” It tells the complainer that she has some responsibility for changing things, not just you.

And then state what you can and cannot do about the complaint. Be honest. Tell her in clear, easy-to-understand language. Say, “I can make sure you are recognized for your efforts, but I can’t pay you more money.”

Of course, if you want to delve into this topic more deeply, you might want to hire me. I get a lot of phone calls and e-mails from people every week, asking how they can book me to speak at one of their upcoming meetings. And I would be glad to do that — if there’s a good fit between your objectives and my expertise.

=> 7. Finally, Don’t Take Advice From Constantly Negative People.

When you hear people say things like marriage doesn’t work, that a certain change will never succeed, that no one cares, take a look at who’s talking. Are they winners or losers? They’re probably losers. So I’m careful of taking their comments too much to heart.

In one of my workshops, I ask people to raise their hands and repeat after me, “I hereby commit, that from now on, I will not take advice from anyone more messed up than I am.” People laugh, but they get the point.

That’s the process, but it’s a process that works. You turn complainers into problem solvers.

And yes, some complainers will be a lot more difficult than others. Some will take a lot longer to turn around. But hang in there. If you do what I suggest, the complainer may give himself a headache, but he won’t give you one.

I like the way Dr. Kent Keithone puts it in his book. He called them Paradoxical Commandments. In a paraphrase of his work, read the following poem.


People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for some underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you’ve got.


Action:  Write down how you typically deal with complainers. Then write down how you’d like to deal with complainers. And finally write down some things you can do to close the gap between the two. Now do it.