Moan at Work

26 Aug

Letterbalm Complaining WomanDear LetterBalm: I work in an office cubicle alongside a peer. We’re both in our 40s. I enjoy what I do, except for one big thing. She’s a chronic complainer. She starts in the morning and doesn’t let up. She complains about her ailments, her kids, her friends, her family, the government and anything else that crops up on her radar. At first I tried to joke and tease her out of her griping mood, but it’s pervasive, and it’s draining me. Even my suggestions don’t help. Co-workers avoid her, and, when I took my concerns to our boss, he said to be more patient with her. It looks like I have to solve this problem myself. She’s thin-skinned and apt to take criticism badly. How can I gently but firmly make her curb her complaints and keep the peace?

–Grievance Committee of One

You must limit your colleague’s gripe time. Let her vent for, say, 5 minutes and interrupt her firmly but positively. “I’m hoping your aching shoulder will get better as the day goes on, but we need to get that report out before lunch.” Keep interrupting her – again, politely but decisively, along the lines of “It’s difficult for you, but concentrate, please.” Or “Let’s turn the talk to …” Ms. L.B. says you should put her on notice via a brief chat the next time you see her. See how far you can go – you may have to stop short of recommending therapy or signaling you’ll be changing the subject each time she starts moaning:

Vivian, I know you have to endure many negative things in your life. And, I know you consider me a friend as well as a co-worker, so you confide in me. But we really need to concentrate on work when we’re here together, and many times your complaints put us in a difficult position. We can’t afford to miss deadlines or turn in incomplete work. So, as your friend and colleague, I’m going to keep steering the conversation to work if you start complaining. I’ll give you one piece of advice, dear, and I trust you’ll take it to heart. Your hardships are overwhelming you and you need to talk with your doctor and consider psychotherapy.

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