Managing Chronic Complainers

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We all know them, people who complain constantly, seeming to have nothing else to talk about. Their negativity and cynicism is draining and distracting for everyone around them. We become exhausted as all of our offered suggestions are dismissed and any hope of resolution fades away.

Supervisors and managers need to deal with chronic complainers and complaints so that our teams can build and sustain momentum and remain focused on goals. In addition, there are times when chronic complainers raise issues that are important.

There are lots of articles on this subject. I just read one that offered the same advice we’ve all seen in the past: changing the subject, showing sympathy, and avoiding interactions with complainers. I think we all know these actions don’t solve the problem or reduce the frustration of being around a chronic complainer. But, reading the article caused me to think about my own experience.

Managers who listen to their people tend to have and cultivate more effective relationships with their employees. These managers also know what’s going on in the organization.

When a manager dismisses chronic complainers other people in the organization tend to notice and often-times this leads to others treating those people disrespectfully, creating more problems among people and potentially impacting their productivity and job satisfaction.

There are two old videos often used with training and coaching clients in the past, named “Do Right” and “Do Right II” by Lou Holtz, former football coach for Notre Dame and a few other universities. Based on those videos and our experience in leadership, consulting and coaching, we’ve put together a simple process for dealing with chronic complainers.

The goal of this process is to sustain an atmosphere of trust and respect, to cultivate openness, and to involve people in identifying and resolving work related, non-urgent problems.


Inform your team, with sincerity, that you want them never to be reluctant to discuss a work problem with you. Tell them that, in fact, you rely on them to identify problems. When someone identifies a problem, they should take the following steps:

  1. Write down the problem.
  2. Think about and analyze the problem.
  3. Develop 3 ideas for solutions. All of solutions should do three things: a) solve the problem b) make a positive difference for the people impacted c) contribute to the success of the company
  4. Bring the problem and the 3 best solutions to discuss with you any time.

When someone doesn’t bring the three solutions, remind them, and ask them to see you once they have identified them.

Soon, you’ll probably find this process leads to recognizing people and acknowledging them for finding and solving problems in your organization. Sometimes you may need to coach people one-on-one to brainstorm solutions and evaluate them. Occasionally, you may assign the work to a team, or ask a team to evaluate solutions. Or, the presenting employee may be assigned these problem solving actions.

Pretty soon, you may discover you’ve positively changed the environment. Sure, there may still be some people who complain about having to develop solutions. But the negativity created by chronic complaints may very well disappear like clouds after a storm when the sun comes out.

Please share your opinionsideasexperience and knowledge by commenting!

Updated & Copyright 5/19/2021 by Rosanna M Nadeau; Copyright 1/13/2015 Rosanna Nadeau, Prism Perspectives Group LLC

Image source: Pinterest

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