Leadership Communication Skill: How To Manage a Whiner

Slide1Whiners, chronic complainers, pessimists, and other negative people can be draining to have as peers or colleagues. And, they can be particularly draining if you are their supervisor.  When I conduct training sessions or breakouts for meetings, some of the most common questions I receive from leaders are:

  •  How can I manage a whiner?
  •  Why are they like that?
  • How can I get them to stop being so negative?

While there are various strategies to use with these chronically negative people, including having performance management conversations regarding their behavior*, here is my favorite strategy:

BE RELENTLESSLY POSITIVE!

Respond to their negativity with unfailing and unrelenting positivity.  For example, when a complainer complains try positive comebacks such as:

  • I know this project will be challenging and I am looking forward to how much more efficient the system will be when we are done.
  • While this will take a lot of time, it will be worth it!
  • Yes, this does push us out of our comfort zone. I’m excited to learn new skills.
  • Yes, this is a change. I’m eager to see what the future holds for our team.
  • I agree, this is hard. I’m looking forward to the challenge.

You get the general idea.  Empathize (don’t commiserate) and then be relentlessly positive!

When you respond with relentless positivity, you are modeling the behavior you expect. You are also training your employees or peers that their negativity doesn’t result in commiseration from you. Rather, you have a forward-thinking and positive perspective that you willingly share.  This relentless positivity can make a negative person less likely to whine or moan and groan in your presence.  You also don’t waste your precious time trying to change them or make them positive. Extraordinarily successful people know that you can’t change other people.  However, you can change how you respond to them. Being relentlessly positive takes all the fun out of it (for them) and you no longer will be their preferred recipient of negativity.

A quick reminder to those of you with formal leadership positions. There is a difference between a chronic complainer and an employee who has a legitimate concern or challenge.  With those team members, asking them how they would solve a problem or what they think ought to be done is often enough to shift them into problem-solving mode and out of their negative mood.  However, if they are being negative to simply gain attention or because they like whining, being relentlessly positive is an effective tool.

With whom will you be relentlessly positive today?

*If you struggle with performance management conversations or you want to brush up on your skills, download Pamela’s on-demand webinar “A Leader’s Toolkit for Difficult and Disciplinary Conversations” here.

Pamela Jett is a communication skills and leadership expert who knows that words matter! In her keynote presentations, workshops, books and online learning programs, she moves beyond communication theory into practical strategies that can be implemented immediately to create the kind of leadership, teamwork, and employee engagement results her clients want.

You might also enjoy:

Snipers, Steamrollers, and Chronic Complainers

Is Confirmation Bias Hurting Your Leadership?

Trigger Understanding – Not Defensiveness

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