How to deal with Moaners and Whiners

Do you spend a disproportionate amount of your time listening to team members moaning and complaining about things? And do you then spend more time trying to sort it out for them? Maybe making phone calls, sending emails, talking to other departments, or finding out more details and  information?

You may feel it’s your job as a manager to sort this. That it shows your support for your team member.  I’m afraid, most of the time, you would be wrong. If someone comes to you whining and moaning and you take responsibility for dealing with it, what have they learned? They’ve learned that they don’t need to think for themselves. That when there’s a problem they just need to tell you and leave it with you. And most importantly, they don’t need to grow and develop because you will take the load.

Even when they have a valid concern I would argue that the first thing to do as a manager is to leave responsibility with them and support them to tackle it. So, the obvious question is “how?” The answer is, “by taking a coaching approach.”

  1. Demonstrate you are listening. Notice I didn’t just say listen. The other person needs to KNOW you are listening. It might seem more time consuming but actually the interaction is likely to go on much longer if your team member doesn’t feel heard.
  2. Ask quality questions rather than providing suggestions and solutions. This will show them you are listening, help them to think things through, and keep responsibility with them.
  3. Ask them what they want. When people are caught up in complaining, feeling hard done by, and blaming other things, it’s really difficult to focus on what they want as an outcome. Shift the focus on to outcomes and break the cycle of moaning about what is happening or not happening in the moment.
  4. Ask them what their options are. People in this situation feel disempowered so you will need to ask questions that raise their awareness and encourage ownership.  This is the opportunity to repeatedly use one of my favourite coaching questions, “what else?”
  5. If you are successful in getting the person to identify what they want and what options are available to them, you can move onto what they are going to do. If not, if the person is still too caught up in the emotion or the detail of it all, arrange to meet up again, probably later that day to hear their desired outcome and options, once they’ve had time to reflect and free up their thinking.

People who habitually moan and complain suck the life out of you and the rest of the team. Is it possible that in your efforts to support them you might be perpetuating the problem?

How do you handle it?

14 Responses to How to deal with Moaners and Whiners

  • Excellent article. (Why am I so slow in finding it?) The other issue with continual complainers is the effect they have on the rest of the team. Even if everything is going well, someone who is continually whining can undermine the team and cause major ill feeling.

  • Great advice Julie
    I think another useful approach managers can take to deal with staff who consistently bring them unresolved problems is to get clarity with that staff member about what their expectations are in this area. I often work with managers who say ‘I wish my staff were more solution focused’ (meaning I wish they’d stop bringing me problems). What those managers often struggle with is describing what ‘solution focused’ looks like in practice. I recommend using performance objectives to clarify these behaviours (and – by coincidence – I have ‘solution focused’ as one of the objectives in my e-book ‘Instant Performance Objectives’!)

  • I think you have gave good tips on handling the complainer especially at workplace.

    From my experiences, many staffs tend to complaint because that’s the only best thing they can do. The best solution that always work for me is to pay attention to them.
    When we help them solve the problem (which gave them technical experiences on solving problem), they will reduce the attitude of complaining.

    Except, for those who are naturally complainer. With help given to them, the complain maybe reduce but they will keep complaining again.

    But no matter what, you gave a good tips Julie 🙂

  • I find sometimes the ‘complainer’ just has a need to be heard, and if you listen (really listen) with an open mind, often there is some truth that may enable you to fine tune a project or tailor a solution to a problem that might otherwise have been missed. The catch is to recognize when someone’s ‘complaints’ are valid, and hold some truth and when they are complaining just for the sake of complaining. Search and probe for the solutions, as often they may have them. I once had a negative, nay-sayer who was my best resource for mitigating problems on a project as she could tell me why things would/could go wrong and then we could plan for those and mitigate the issues before they ever happened.

    • Hi Karen. Thanks for articulating so clearly the value of nay-sayers. We all need checks and balances and although it’s not always the most popular stance to take, it can sometimes save costly mistakes. Great points.

  • Ive followed much of that line of advice in the past and it often resolves the issue but sometimes you just get someone who seems to thrive on moaning and nothing you do seems to make a difference.

    • I agree, and for the people who are thriving on moaning and whining I think it is a case of doing everything you can to stop feeding their habit. It’s a cliche but the saying “don’t bring me problems bring me solutions” was made for people like this. They may just need help through coaching questions, to unearth those solutions.

      If they persist it could be time to have an honest conversation about the impact of their behaviour on you, their colleagues and the work.

  • Great advice Julie, I certainly agree with leaving the ownership with the moaner/complainer. It’s their monkey and they need to learn how to deal with things and not draw energy from the rest of the team. I agree that supporting them may just be perpetuating the problem and a coaching approach is the best solution for both the manager and the moaner.

  • I echo your instructions, Julie.

    If they say, “hey, I had a great idea . . .”, then they have just answered their dilemma, and think of you as giving good advice.

    But, I find more of them, after you ask quality questions, and what their options are, just go to the next person. And repeat their tale of woe, almost verbatim.

    Thanks for your insight, Julie. Good stuff!

    • Hi Gibson. I agree that sometimes they move on to the next person who will be receptive. There isn’t anything you can do about that except be grateful that you are freed up to focus your energy and attention on more important things. Eventually, others will hopefully come to the same realisation and model your lead.

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