4 Ways to Lead Complainers

Maturity is the ability to reap without apology and not complain when things don’t go well. – Jim Rohn

A story is told of a guide at Blarney Castle in Ireland who was explaining to some visitors that his job was not always as pleasant as it seemed. He told them about a group of disgruntled tourists he had taken to the castle earlier in the week.

“Those people were complaining about everything,” he said. “They didn’t like the weather, the food, their hotel accommodations, the prices, everything. Then to top it off, when we arrived at the castle, we found that the area around Blarney Stone was roped off. Workmen were making some kind of repairs.” “This is the last straw!” exclaimed one lady who seemed to be the chief faultfinder in the group. “I’ve come all this way, and now I can’t even kiss the Blarney Stone.”

“Well, you know,” the guide said, “according to legend, if you kiss someone who has kissed the stone, it’s the same as kissing the stone itself.” “And I suppose you’ve kissed the stone,” said the exasperated lady. “Better than that,” replied the guide, “I’ve sat on it.”

Like the lady in the story, I bet your office has a chief faultfinder. You know the one (hopefully it’s not you) I am talking about; nothing is ever right and this person feels that it’s his or her duty to criticize everything.

These people are not only a nuisance but they have a negative impact on the rest of your office and undercut morale.  In a recent article put out by Seton Doctor Link (http://bit.ly/17Llub2), some 18% of U.S. employees are ‘actively disengaged,” negative, and likely to complain about their employers, according to a Gallup poll of 31, 265 employees. When this high a percentage are disengaged or complaining it can have serious consequences. Here are four tips to help you deal with the habitually complaining employee.


The purpose here is to get to the root of the problem as to why this person feels compelled to complain all the time. It could be completely legitimate but the employee simply has chosen the wrong vehicle to express their concerns. On the other hand it could just be an ill-content employee who is making noise. Regardless, get to the bottom of it quick before this person does any more damage. You can turn their poison into praise simply by engagement. But if the poison remains then keep on reading.


On your hands is a person with passion that needs to be channeled in the right direction. Instead of just hearing their gripes you can commission them to bring viable solutions to the table. Don’t just give the person a forum to vent, convey your expectation that if they have something to complain about then you expect solutions from them. This will either cause them to step up and take responsibility to make things better or at the very least quiet them down. Either way, make your expectations clear.


No one wants a complainer or whiner in the office. They drain the positive energy out of the office and their negative energy is toxic. If you feel that this person’s heart is in the right place (although their vocal chords may not be) and their contributions outweigh their complaining, then do what you can to elevate this person to a higher level. It could be that their complaining ways is a blind spot that needs to be pointed out. Let them know that being the office critic is not constructive and that there are better ways to channel their concerns. If all else fails then you may have no other choice than to do what’s next.


While this is a last option it is nevertheless an option that you should not take off the table. You cannot allow the constant critic to continue on with his or her toxic ways and bring down office morale and camaraderie. Go through these steps with every intention of a positive outcome and consider what’s best for everyone. It’s been said, “What you tolerate, you promote,” and so you must decide the type of environment and office culture you want to promote. If one bad apple is making everyone miserable then let the bad apple go.

On balance I must stress that there should be room for disagreement and open discussion in your workplace. That is healthy and necessary when done properly. But the constant whiner should be engaged, encouraged, elevated, and if all else fails, ejected.

What do you say?


© 2013 Doug Dickerson

If you enjoy reading Doug’s leadership insight you will especially enjoy reading his books, Leaders Without Borders & Great Leaders Wanted!  Visit Doug’s website at www.dougsmanagementmoment.blogspot.com to order your copies today.