Being trapped in a confined space with a chronic whiner can be maddening.
Q: I am stuck in a very small office with an older colleague who never stops complaining. “Larry” goes on and on about his heavy workload, but when I offer assistance, he criticizes my efforts. Larry also gripes about how our boss doesn’t like him. However, if I try to help him figure out why, he immediately rejects my suggestions.
Whenever I’m out of the office, Larry complains about the number of people who were looking for me, although he never seems to know who they were. I would like to tell Larry to just shut up, but that doesn’t seem wise. Do you have any advice?
A: Being trapped in a confined space with a chronic complainer would be maddening, so I understand your frustration. But while you will never change Larry’s personality, you might be able to modify his behavior.
In attempting to be helpful, you have inadvertently become a player in Larry’s griping game. Whenever you listen to complaints, propose solutions to problems, or offer to help with tasks, you are actually rewarding the behavior that is driving you crazy. So it’s time to stop participating in these pointless conversations.
When Larry launches into a round of complaints, politely explain that you are unable to talk because you have a lot to do. Then immediately turn away and focus on your work. Should Larry persist, simply repeat “I’m sorry, but I really can’t talk now” without making eye contact.
If possible, enhance this separation by arranging your workspace so that your back is to Larry’s area. And if you can wear headphones at the office, start plugging them in. Compulsive complainers always want an audience, so if you continue to be unresponsive, Larry will eventually find a more willing listener.