The best ways to deal with an annoying coworker who won’t stop whining and complaining
We’ve all dealt with an annoying coworker who won’t stop complaining. No matter the size of your organization, there’s one person who whines and complains a lot. This person usually means well, but their complaints burn your ears every time you hear it. The annoying coworker may even be really good at their job, but you still have trouble working with them. Nothing is good enough for them.
Now, everyone complains a bit and it’s not really that much of a problem. A Harvard Business School study, for example, found the average employee spends up to 10 hours a month complaining. And it can even be productive. Complaining is one way to communicate that things aren’t working for you. Any good organization knows that it must continually change to continually profit. But when a coworker gets on your nerves because they just won’t stop complaining, that’s when they officially become the annoying coworker.
If you’ve wondered how to handle an annoying coworker who won’t stop complaining and whining, keep reading. We’ve rounded up the best ways to handle this person with compassion (but also to get them to leave you alone).
6 – Praise them at work
If you’ve got an annoying coworker on your hands, pay attention to what they are whining and complaining about. We all have things we don’t like in life (or at work), but if you pay close attention you may be able to discover what someone is really after.
Are they complaining about the coffee quality? That’s fairly normal. But are they complaining about how another person took credit for their idea or their boss never listens to them? That may be a signal of something a little deeper.
Depending on the person and the work environment, coworkers may complain to you because they don’t feel recognized at work. Perhaps they see you as a kind person or someone who values everyone equally, so their complaints to you are really asks for validation.
If that’s the case – praise them publicly.
Only do it when it’s appropriate, though. You don’t want to embarrass them or yourself. However, use whatever channels your company has for recognition and give the person a shoutout. As long as it’s genuine (as in, something you actually noticed about the person – you don’t want to praise someone for something you’ve never seen them do), then it could go a long way to helping that person feel valued. If the only reason they complained to you is because they weren’t feeling valued, that simple act of recognition could stop their complaining.
5 – Ask them what they really want
Often when people complain, the thing they really want is not the thing they are complaining about. In fact, studies show that most people don’t actually know what they want. So it’s possible that when you’re dealing with an annoying coworker, their complaints are a symptom of a bigger problem.
If you’re tired of hearing someone complain about this, that, and everything, ask them what they really want. Are they complaining about a coworker because they want that person fired … or just because they want to feel more recognized for their contribution? Are they annoying you about buying expensive software because they genuinely need it or because they feel they don’t know what is expected of them at work?
When you dig, there’s often much more under the surface. By helping your annoying coworker realize what they really want, you turn off the urge to complain – it’s no longer necessary because they can directly ask for what they want.
4 – Refer them to someone who can help
When you’re dealing with an annoying coworker, it’s very possible that the person has a legitimate issue they need help with. While their delivery may be annoying, they could genuinely need help. So when you are faced with an annoying coworker, do your best to take them seriously – then refer them to someone who can help solve their problem.
In some cases, you may be the person that can help them solve their problem. If that’s the case, be clear about what you can and cannot do, then go do it. This should stop their complaining right in its tracks, but be careful to not let it become a habit. If this person knows all they have to do is complain, then you’re training them to become more annoying.
Depending on the nature of the complaint, it may be wise to refer them to their own manager or HR. This kind of referral would typically be for anything performance or people-related. You may even want to refer them to someone outside the office if they are complaining about things outside work.
In any case, when you refer them to someone, you stop them from thinking you will solve their problems.
3 – Change the subject
Similar to people complaining about things they don’t actually want, sometimes annoying coworkers will complain simply to pass the time. Or, perhaps worse, because they enjoy it and get pleasure from it.
When people continually complain, listen carefully to how they are telling their stories. Are they complaining that things are bad in a broad sense, or are they always the ones being personally harmed? If someone’s complaints always show how attacked or harmed they are, they may have a “victim mentality”. This mentality is when people portray themselves as the victim in every possible scenario so they can gain sympathy or favour.
If you’re dealing with an annoying coworker who seems to enjoy complaining and whining, try changing the subject whenever they begin to complain. This does two things that help you. One, it stops them from complaining because you don’t let them sit on a topic for long enough. And two, it sends a signal to them that you’re going to give them the sympathy they crave, so complaining to you is useless.
If you change the subject and the person just begins to complain about the next topic, it may be time for a “difficult conversation” – keep reading to learn more about that.
2 – Ask for their opinion on something
Sometimes people whine or complain in order to get attention. This could mean they don’t feel valued or heard in other ways, and think whining is the only way to get people to pay attention to them. While the logic may not be flawless, it’s hard to judge their intentions – a very common reason people leave jobs is because they aren’t valued.
If you have an annoying coworker who is complaining a lot, it’s possible they just don’t feel valued or listened to. So give them an opportunity to be valuable by asking for their opinion on something you’re working on. For example, if you’re brainstorming a new idea for your team’s project, ask what they think about your latest creation. Explain the context of the project, who it’s supposed to serve, and what its intended outcomes are. Then see what they think.
When you ask for someone’s opinion, you’re signalling that you value them, which could be exactly what your annoying coworker needs. It also helps you change the subject without being dismissive since you’re talking about work (which no one can blame you for).
As an added bonus, you get a different perspective on your work. Since studies show that the more diverse opinions you gather, the better your work will be, you have the chance for a double win: you stop the person from complaining and you produce better work.
1 – Have a “difficult conversation” with them
There are a lot of reasons why people complain and many ways to stop it. But sometimes it seems like nothing works. You can try changing the subject or offering to help and still see no results – your annoying coworker continues to annoy.
When all else fails, it may be time for a “difficult conversation” where you politely, but firmly, let your annoying coworker know they are complaining too much.
In this conversation, focus on two things:
- That the person is coming across as whiny and it’s not helping their cause
- That you are not the right person to bring up grievances to and they need to direct their concerns to the right person or people
Remember, though, to bring compassion into this conversation. You bring up that your coworker is complaining not because you want to hurt them but because you want to help them. If they really do need help but don’t know how to ask for it, your firm kindness in telling them to try a different approach may help them get success later on.