You've looked forward to this lunch for some time, finally a time to relax with someone whom you admire. She plops down late, in a frustrated state and spends the next 20 minutes complaining about her team, company leadership, and the world. This is far from relaxing, yet you are too nice to interrupt.
You are working full force on a new project. All of the pieces are coming together and you are 'on.' It feels great. Then, a peer rushes into your office angry and upset about the newest gossip. You feel obligated to drop your project to listen in hopes that he'll get it off of his chest and leave soon. Yet when he does, your energy has dropped, and it's now difficult to pick up where you left off.
What do you do with the time-and-energy-robbing complainers in your life? This may seem simple, yet I've spent hundreds of hours in sessions with agonized executive clients perplexed about this very issue.
You've entered an era of too much information (most of it negative) blasting at you from every direction. Becoming the 'best that you can be' necessitates becoming protective of what information you allow in. It's no different than using your remote to change the station when something distasteful appears on TV.
You are always teaching people how to treat you.
By allowing those closest to you to complain incessantly, you've given them permission to do the same tomorrow and the next day. If this is not what you want, and I know few people who want to be surrounded by complainers, you can stop this pattern.
Here are some suggestions to let those around you know that in this brand new year you are implementing a 'complaint free zone' all around you.
Ask yourself what this person really wants. Is it your attention, pity, solutions? Are they lonely, bored? Do they need to feel important in your eyes and this is the only way they feel heard? You can do this analysis before a person enters your office. Just think back to your last few interactions and then use the techniques below.
Be direct. As much as my clients have come up with creative schemes to get the point across that they have no time for 'complainers,' it boils down to telling them the truth. Rather than allowing a wall to build up between you, simply say something like: "It sounds like life is presenting you many challenges at the moment. Tell me something that's going right for you." or "I appreciate that you are really frustrated now, but that's not where I'm at. I actually like this ______ (person, project, direction) and intend to make the best of it."
Ask them what they want. If you sense they just want to be heard, are bored, or are avoiding doing their own creative thinking, ask: "What is it that you want here? You're smart enough to find a solution for this; you don't need me." If they want you to solve their problem and that's not your role, ask them: "Is there a reason you're bringing this scenario to me? Michael is much better equipped to help you."
Set boundaries and be consistent. Setting boundaries is difficult for most of us. Keeping the consistent message is vital. "You know I'm much more interested in solutions than problems. Come back with at least three, and we'll explore them." "Honey, I know you want to tell me about your awful day but I just walked in the door from a grueling day. Can it wait until after dinner?" "I'm on a roll now with this project, can we talk later?" Later may never come, and you've just established that you have no time for this sort of communication.
Teaching people a new way of treating you is liberating. Give the gift of letting those closest to you know what you expect of them and of your interactions. Though difficult at first, you will soon create a win/win scenario--a much more productive, pleasurable atmosphere.
You deserve a 'complaint free zone' as you enter your brand New Year!