Shut Down the Constant Complainer

Only the most disciplined, enlightened managers can resist the urge to argue when greeted with a nonstop complainer. But trying to convince someone that he’s wrong wastes time. That will only make a petty complainer more obnoxious.

The best approach is to put a lid on complaints so that the individual shuts up and returns to work. Here’s how:

Set ground rules. Head off early signs of complaining by helping the employee diagnose and combat the problem. Say, “I want to make you aware of something that may help you save time,” or, “You’ll earn that promotion you want more quickly if you take steps to cut down on the complaining.”

Then establish some sensible rules. Examples include: “Once you bring a problem to my attention, don’t repeat yourself,” or, “Before you speak out, ask yourself what’s to gain.” Promise to help your employee follow these rules and overcome his bad habit.

You may even want to introduce a nonverbal signal to remind an employee who bellyaches again, such as stretching your arms in front of you as if to say, “Stop.” This private sign language can gently silence a complainer.

Acknowledge, then ignore. Most complainers want to be heard, whether they’re requesting change or simply unleashing frustration. Show that you listen by acknowledging their points—once.

If they drone on after you’ve made it clear that you’ve heard them, don’t continue to nod periodically and pretend to listen. Instead, terminate the conversation and return to work. By joining the gripe session, you reward the complaining and encourage more.