One of my pet peeves is negativity in the office. I’m not talking about a good, powerful discussions about meaty topics. I’m not even talking about suggestions for small ways to improve processes.

Nope. What frustrates me is complaining. Big or small, I have low tolerance for complaints. It saps the creative energy right out of the room. For example, someone says “The coffee maker is still broken” without approaching the person whose job it is to fix said coffee maker. Boom! Captain Killjoy strikes again!

The absolute worst is when someone complains about a coworker.  “So and so gets a lot of personal calls.” GROAN and STAB MY EARS!!

Who cares how many calls he gets!? That’s not a real problem. A real problem would be: “So and so doesn’t get his work done and the rest of us have to work extra hard to make up for it.” That’s a real problem and the beginning of a powerful conversation that could be had directly with the person not pulling his weight.

Offices run rampant with this stuff. I bet most of the work friendships in the world are 90% fueled by a mutual love of complaining about someone or something.

Sarcasm is the wittier, prettier version of complaining. It’s also something I really enjoy. I take a devilish delight in sarcastic remarks about the office, a coworker, or a competitor. Do not fall for this trap! It’s just a complaint disguised as something smart, funny, and passive-aggressive. Ahem.

Admiral Ackbar

Here’s the challenge: Organizations of disgruntled “yes wo/men” are ineffective and demotivating. People should challenge each other, ask questions, and have hard discussions face-to-face and often.  If you tell people, “don’t complain,” they often hear “don’t disagree or raise unpleasant truths.”

Distinguishing between a complaint, rant, and constructive criticism or concern is not easy.

Don’t Complain ≠ Pretend to Agree About Everything

Maybe it’s not about the complaint itself. It’s about when it’s happening, where it’s happening, who is part of the discussion, and whether solutions are offered.

No more complaining. Only solutioning please. In the spirit of good faith, here are some solutions you could try when faced with a complainer:

  • Instead of asking for “feedback,” ask for “suggestions or solutions.”
  • When you hear a passing complaint, instead of just nodding with empathy, ask “Do you have a solution? Who should you talk to about that?”
  • If it’s something really trivial, consider countering with a care bear stare. Like this:

Complainer: “Ugh. My favorite coffee machine is still broken.” Solutioner: “I think it’s great how many different kinds of coffee we have here.”

Complainer: “Can you believe he wore that coat again?” Solutioner: “I love that he’s so confident and grounded, he doesn’t worry about stuff like fashion.”

Complainer: “Ugh. Yet another day of rain.” Solutioner: “Liquid sunshine is the best sound to wake up to in the morning.”

Okay. That’s a little pukey-pukey and passive aggressive. Regardless, I do think positivity is the complainer’s kryptonite.

If complaining is becoming a trend, then take the opportunity to have one of those tough conversations. Let the complainer know his behavior impacts the team, and makes it less fun to come to work. Let him know you’re looking for solutions.