How to Avoid the Office Complainers

Posted August 31, 2012 by Marcy Farrey in On the Ladder

By the end of the week, you’ve probably spent your share of time around office complainers. You know them — the people who gather in the corner to air their grievances about the company or the boss to each other at least once — maybe several — times a day. You may even participate from time to time, but when you’re trying to get work done, there’s nothing more frustrating than listening to a negative soundtrack.

That frustration with complainers is completely normal and, scientists say, all of that complaining does have a negative impact: In fact, “Listening to Complainers is Bad for Your Brain.” Contributor Minda Zetlin interviewed Trevor Blake, author of Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life. Blake says that being around so much negativity can in turn make you negative, and that keeps you from actually solving problems. Research has found that exposure to a lot of negativity can impair the part of your brain that is needed for problem solving.

Zeitlin asked Blake how we can keep this from happening to us, and he gave a few simple tips to help manage the complainers.

The first step is to try and get some distance from the complainers: if you don’t hang around negativity, then you can avoid feeling it. But unfortunately, we can’t always escape our coworkers. Your next option to ask the complainer to fix the problem he or she is complaining about:

“Try to get the person who’s complaining to take responsibility for a solution,’ Blake says. ‘I typically respond to a complain with, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ Many complainers walk away huffily at that point, because he hasn’t given them what they wanted, Blake reports. But some may actually try to solve the problem.”

Many times, griping about the boss seems to be a bonding activity for certain people. In some cases, you may have to take a stand and show that this isn’t the way they’ll be bonding with you. Make it clear that unless they’re talking to you in hopes of coming up with a solution to their problem, you aren’t interested.

Finally, Blake suggests that you find your own mental escape when you can’t physically escape a complainer. You can imagine creating a protective field around yourself or imagine yourself in your personal paradise. Listen and nod politely, but put your shield up:

“For me, it was a ribbon of beautiful white sugary sand that extended out in a horseshoe shape from a private island,” Blake says. “I would take myself to my private retreat while people were ranting and raving. I could smile at them and nod in all the right places and meanwhile take myself for a walk on my private beach.”

Even if the complainers aren’t talking directly to you, offices are often small, compact spaces where anyone nearby can hear a conversation. When this happens, reach for your shield.

And when you feel tempted to maybe participate, remember that your criticism should be directed at solving a problem. The more time you spend complaining, the less time you’ll spend getting your work done — and that will leave you even more stressed when your next deadline comes. Like with any form of negativity, whether it’s your own thoughts or those of the people around you, you have to fight it — or risk eventually becoming it. Surround yourself with people who bring you up rather than break you down, and you’ll be sure to see big changes in your life.

Read more of Zetlin’s interview with Blake on

About the Author

Marcy Farrey

Marcy Farrey is a videographer, writer, and editor. In her previous life, she worked as a broadcast news reporter and producer in Lincoln, Nebraska and as a writer and producer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She has a Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University and a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University. Learn more about Marcy on her website

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