Improving Communication In The Workplace
By: Linda Byars Swindling, author of Stop Complainers and Energy Drainers (Wiley, 2013)
“Dealing” with difficult people is not enough. You don’t want to deal with difficult people. Instead, you want those difficult people to stop complaining, stop the workplace drama and stop draining everyone’s energy.
You also want them to start communicating more effectively, start being proactive and start contributing their talents and energy to their work.
The Vampire Complainers
There’s no doubt about it -- chronic complainers suck the resources, time, energy, and joy out of work and life.
According to our survey of over 1,000 people, seventy-seven percent of the respondents spend at least three to six hours a week dealing with complainers and energy draining situations.
Seventy-three percent say they will turn down a $10,000 per year pay raise instead of working with a complainer, and eleven percent of the responders have left a job to escape a complainer.
To negotiate a change from a culture of complaining into one of contributing, you need a strategy.
Spot Your Complainer’s Style
Chronic complainers are often compared to school bullies, spoiled toddlers, whiny children, sneaky adolescents and sullen teenagers. There are five categories of chronic complainers.
- Whiners complain by showing disapproval, venting, or withdrawing.
- Complicators employ complaining tactics that frustrate, complicate, and create confusion.
- Prima Donnas complain by seeking attention, gossiping, creating drama, and stirring up trouble.
- Controllers use a variety of aggressive complaints in their attempts to reach an outcome, to control situations, and to control people.
- Toxics are dangerous individuals who use complaints and misinformation to manipulate and poison the environment to further their self-absorbed agendas.
Take the free, online assessment “Spot Your Complainer’s Type.”
Communication Tips to Stop Complainers
Whiners appear as martyrs, spoiled brats and pouters. Whiners want you to hold their hand through life’s challenges and fix their problems. Don’t.
Negotiate with Whiners by listening and empathizing for a few minutes and then ask for solutions. For example, “Wow, that has to be tough for you. How will you handle that?”
Complicators appear as critics, nitpickers, know-it-alls, and micromanagers. They want to block change. Masters of minutiae, they complain by finding flaws and in pointing out others’ incompetence.
Negotiate with Complicators by respecting the intellect of their systems, thought processes, or designs. Present change as a logical addition and ask them to contribute. “Can you give input on this next upgrade to make sure it is compatible with your current process?”
Prima Donnas appear brash, excessive, reactionary, and dramatic. They are comfortable in the spotlight. Prima Donnas want you focused on them. They use complaining to meet their need to be heard, admired, and appreciated.
Negotiate with Prima Donnas by recognizing them but avoid getting lost in their drama. “How are you going to present your position and get positive recognition for your efforts?”
Controllers appear to be tyrants, bullies, slave drivers, and bulldozers. Controllers want you to yield to their authority and will run over you if you let them. Controllers use complaining to get things done, motivate others to action, or get rid of restraints.
Negotiate with Controllers by standing your ground. Let Controllers know you are aware of problems and, if possible, let them decide the next direction. “The client can’t provide the information to you until noon. Do you want to discuss what we receive at three today or first thing tomorrow?”
Toxics appear as narcissists, psychopaths and manipulators. They are deceitful, ruthless, and can adapt their behavior to please management while tormenting coworkers and direct reports. Toxics want to charm and disarm you to further their personal agendas. They are self-absorbed egotists who are hazardous to your health.
Negotiate with Toxics by reminding yourself that you are a rational person. Get a counselor or business coach to advise you on this disorder. Document actions and use stealth. If Toxics think you are plotting against them, they may attempt to retaliate and harm your professional reputation.
Acknowledge a Toxic’s comments to you. “Thank you for that observation. I will do my best to eliminate that offending behavior. Please let me know if you become aware of it again or see anything else.” Then, find a way to escape working with them if possible.
Generate a Complaint-Free Zone
Deal with your difficult employees, especially complainers, so that you will improve workplace communication. Just remember, you may not be able to get complainers to stop complaining but you can get them to stop complaining to you.
Identify the complainer types in your workplace so you can spot them, and STOP them.
A recognized authority on negotiations, workplace issues and high stakes communication, Linda Byars Swindling, is author of Stop Complainers and Energy Drainers: How to Negotiate Work Drama to Get More Done (Wiley; February 2013), media expert, a "recovering" employment attorney, and a Certified Speaking Professional. Linda speaks at conventions, associations and companies throughout the country. For more information on how to Stop Complainers and Energy Drainers or to contact Linda, go to StopComplainers.com.