Not long ago, I wrote an article on the topic of chronic complainers. It focused on how to deal with these kinds of folks because, let’s be honest, no one likes a whiner. And yet, it seems most workplaces are crawling with them.

But then it dawned on me…What if (dare I say it) YOU are the pesky complainer in your office?

Ouch.

Sure, we all have complaints—about work, life, you name it. Things are never as perfect as we’d like them to be. But constantly vocalizing your negative thoughts and feelings just isn’t acceptable for a number of reasons. So, you have to find a way to put your complaints into perspective; manage them. Recognize what you’re feeling, but deal with it in a way that’s productive, not destructive. 

Here are a few tips to help you do that.

Recognize How Complaining Makes You Look

People complain for a variety of reasons. Usually they want something—like sympathy, validation or support—or they’re just looking to vent and release some kind of emotion (on others). Sometimes, they just can’t help themselves: If they’re miserable, everyone else should be miserable too.

When people hear you complaining at work about work, they develop a picture of who you are as a professional. Do it often enough and certain words will come to mind when they hear your name. Words like: whiny, entitled, negative, victim, weak, disloyal, annoying, needy and powerless.

Double ouch.

Think about it: Is that the kind of person you want to work with? Do you want that person on your team? Probably not.

Listen carefully to yourself in the workplace. If you’re in the habit of complaining, evaluate what that might look like from the outside. Are you creating an image that could potentially harm your career in the future?

Recognize How Complaining Harms Your Mindset

Complaints create a self-perpetuating vicious cycle. The more you talk about these things, the more you dwell on them and the worse they seem to get. Thus, the more you want to complain about them. Have you ever experienced this?

I often work with coaching clients who are in the midst of dealing with a lot of workplace drama (things like layoffs, terminations, company turmoil, office cliques, etc.). Many of them get sucked into “complaint spirals” with colleagues, friends and other well-meaning loved ones. They sit around at lunch, after work, or even on weekends dissecting what’s happening in minute detail.  

At first, it feels cathartic. Everyone is commiserating and aligning around a shared unhappiness. But there’s a point of diminishing returns. Before long, it stops being helpful and starts being destructive. People begin feeding off the energy of the group and soon, everyone is feeling more anxious, stressed, and worried about the situation.

The only way to manage the emotion is to simply break the cycle. Stop talking about what’s not working. Stop talking about how rough things are. You’re not gaining anything by rehashing the same old negativity over and over again. Remember: The more you talk, the less helpful it becomes until finally, it’s only working against you.

Re-Focus on the Positive

Every job has its downsides. There’s no such thing as perfection. But, more than likely, you can also find a lot of positives in your work situation—if you look for it. The good stuff could be buried pretty deep beneath everything else, so you might have to put in some real effort here. But I promise you, it’s worth it.  

Now, I’m not the kind of person who believes in forced positivity. Sometimes, things are really dire. If half your team has just been laid off, you’ll look pretty out of touch trying to spin that as a good thing. But you can still be open to the possibility that it’s going to all work out—for everyone. You can be authentic and even acknowledge your negative feelings like fear, frustration, stress, or confusion. But you don’t have to let those things dominate your thinking or your conversations. Instead, try to focus on next steps. What can you do to be productive? What can you do to see the light at the end of the tunnel?

Find Solutions & Take Action

Finally, and most importantly, find ways to fix whatever it is that’s bothering you.

Put your complaints on paper and evaluate them. Are they petty and inconsequential? Or are they, indeed, valid? Perhaps they’re valid but not really worth the attention you give them. Or maybe they’re massively problematic and it’s a wonder you’ve been handling them so well.

You be the judge.

Then, figure out what needs to be done. You have options:

  • You can accept the situation as it is. If you do this, tell yourself you can’t complain about it anymore—because you’ve already decided it’s acceptable. You have to move past it.
  • You can change it. If the complaint is one you simply can’t accept, you have to evaluate your power in the situation. Can you directly change it yourself? Can you influence others to change it? What needs to be done to make this situation more manageable?
  • You can leave it. If you can’t accept it and you can’t change it, the only other option is to leave it. I realize this may sound drastic, but you’re at an impasse. You can’t carry on the way you’ve been. Constantly complaining about a situation while doing nothing about it is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Don’t do that to yourself.

Chronic work complaints are (obviously) a sign that you aren’t happy. I can tell you to keep your mouth shut for the good of your reputation and your own mindset, and I can remind you to look for the good as well, but I would be remiss if I pretended like that’s all there is to it. I don’t want you to ignore your feelings. I want you to investigate them and take intelligent action to resolve the situation one way or another.