Are You the Workplace Whiner?

Posted on September 12, 2012


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By SUE SHELLENBARGER, Wall Street Journal

It’s one of the diciest challenges of office politics, one that invades the cubicle farm and executive suite alike: How to deal with workplace whiners.

While it’s often best to walk away, that can be difficult in today’s team-based workplace, where many people work closely in groups.

Trying to stay neutral by just listening and nodding can also backfire, says Dana Brownlee, founder of Professionalism Matters, a corporate-training firm in Atlanta. “Before you know it, there’s another version of the story circulating, saying you were the one saying something negative about the VP. And they’re talking about you over by the Coke machine.”

And it can be tough to object without seeming self-righteous. “If you approach someone about their complaining, they may take it in a completely wrong way, and then you’ve alienated them,” says Jon Gordon, an author, consultant and founder of a Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., training firm. It’s better to try to bond with co-workers, while setting an example by not griping yourself, he says.

When Kris Whitehead joined a new employer several years ago, his colleagues’ frequent work complaints “had a direct impact on my ability to sell,” says the Nashua, N.H., salesman. With the economy in a slump, “I had the same secret fears” of failure being voiced by co-workers, he says. Staying upbeat “was an extremely arduous task.”

But when he suggested to colleagues that they focus instead on solutions,”nobody wanted to listen,” he says. Plus, “people started talking about me at the water cooler.”

Mr. Whitehead started reading books on personal development and worked on bonding with colleagues. As he posted gains in sales, co-workers warmed up and his boss recently asked him to help train new hires. “People seem to listen better when you produce,” Mr. Whitehead says.

Continue reading: What to Do With a Workplace Whiner

I’m the co-founder and executive director of ELGL. I love my job. Other things I love: local government, my family, my dog Michael Jordan, sandwiches, naps, books, and skee-ball.

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