Dealing with The Complainer

Dealing with The Complainer


Last week we started the first in a series of posts that I will be doing that will focus on dealing with difficult people. I previously laid out four specific difficult personality types. While not an exhaustive list these represent some common troublesome personalities that managers deal with.

In the next four posts I would like to look at each of these personalities one by one and try to offer some techniques for dealing with each. This week we will look at the complainer, but before we do that I want to discuss some general suggestions that will be common for all the personalities types we will talk about.

First, never lose your cool. No matter how frustrated these people make you, always maintain your composure. Do not let them shake you. A fellow manager once said to me about difficult people, “don’t let them rent space in your head”. This was really power advice that I have always remembered. You give them the power to upset you, don’t give them that power.

Second, always treat everybody with respect. Don’t demean or put people down under any circumstance. It gains you nothing and it only damages relationships, not just with the person you’re dealing with, but with your entire team. People talk and it will get around quickly if you’re a person who talks down to people.

Third, always deal in facts and avoid emotion. It is hard to keep our emotions at bay, especially when we are dealing with personalities that push our buttons, but emotions are subjective and hard to defend, where facts cannot be denied. Stick to objective facts that you can quantify and deal with. Facts keep us out of the realm of opinion.

So, let’s get started with looking at techniques for dealing with the complainer. Keep in mind that the person who is a complainer, whether you like it or not, is complaining for a reason. We all have needs that we want met and the complainer is trying to give voice to some need of theirs that is not being met, the only problem is they have a tendency to do it in a way that is not positive or productive.

Try to determine whether there is validity to their complaint. This can be hard to do as they complain so often that we tend to just ignore their complaints; but ignoring them won’t make them go away or change their behavior. So, take a look at the complaint. If it turns out to be legitimate, great then you can do something about it. Make sure you let them know that you found their complaint to have validity and what you are doing to correct it. You want to give them positive reinforcement for valid complaints so that they understand that you address valid complaints and that there are positive consequences for bringing valid complaints to light.

If it is not a valid complaint start by gathering facts to support your position. Once you have your facts sit down one on one with the complainer. Present the facts to them. They will probably want to distract the conversation by side tracking it with hearsay and opinion. Don’t let them take the conversation off track, always bring them back to the facts. Ask them to present you with facts. Tell them when they have facts to back up their opinion you would be happy to look into the problem. Let them know that frivolous complaining is unhelpful and has a negative impact. Here you need to be firm. Don’t lose your cool, don’t yell, but don’t bend on what the expectations are in regard to acceptable behaviors.

After you have established facts ask them to help come up with a solution to the problem. This is key to dealing with a complainer. If they want to complain then they also need to have a solution to the problem. Every time they bring a complaint to you make sure you ask them what the solution to the problem should be. After a while they will either quit complaining, because they will realize they need to have a solution, or they will bring you a solution along with their compliant which puts the ownership of the solution back on them.

These people thrive on emotion. Don’t let them get you worked up. Keep your cool in your dealings with them and always bring them back to dealing in facts and the reality of the situation. Don’t let them distract with hearsay and opinion. Always make them accountable for coming up with a solution to their problem.

While we can’t change complainers, and they will always be a problem, we can manage them by setting clear boundaries, insisting on facts, and holding them accountable for solutions.

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