Chronic whining from an employee can spread through your office like the flu.
If not successfully handled quickly you could end up with a very disruptive and low performing team. Before you know it everyone’s whining – and productivity may never return.

In our coaching workshops we look at this particular bad behaviour in detail, and how to resolve it.

Whining mostly comes from behavioural profiles that have a high fear of making mistakes.
Under pressure to work faster or make a quick decision they become perfectionists and slow the process down.
Whiners have a vague sense that things could be better, but no clue as to how they should change it. This leaves them helpless and why they come to you.

When you ask whiner what the problem is they say “everything”.
Who is doing it? “everyone!”.
When does it happen? “all the time!”.
What have you tried? “everything!”

Can you see someone like that in your life?

If you disagree with them they whine more.
If you agree with them they whine more.

So how do you break the cycle?

Here’s what not to do:

  • Don’t agree or disagree with them
  • Don’t try to solve their problems
  • Never ask them why they are complaining to you

Doing any these just invites them to prolong the whining.

Here’s what to do:

Before turning the whiner around, you’d need to take a deep breath and change your own attitude to them. In particular;

  • Have patience with their negativity
  • Have compassion for them (they are after all out of control)
  • Commitment to the time that it will take to get them solution focussed

Here’s a how to manual borrowed from Rick Brinkman’s lens of understanding work.


To turn them around you need to form a Problem solving-alliance.
If you can’t get them to this point – then your goal becomes to get them to get away from you.

A problem solver looks at the specifics of the problem then comes up with solutions.

1 Listen for main points
Get a pen and paper and write down the main points of the complaint. Whiners love this as it shows that your listening, it also gives you a checklist to backtrack and tick off.

2 Interrupt and get specific
Take command of the discussion by tactfully interrupting.
Your goal is to break down generalisations into specifics.

3 Shift focus to solutions
Ask them “what do you want?”
If they say “I don’t know”, ask them to guess. “ok, guess, make something up, if you did know what would it be?”. Then wait expectantly. If their ideas are unrealistic send them back to the drawing board.
Once they have a reasonable solution, ask them what the next steps would be.

4 Show them the future
You now need to show them their problem being solved.
If solving the problem turns out to be your responsibility then you must keep the whiner informed of your progress – else they then get something else to whine about!
If the complaints are about other people, offer to set up a meeting with them.
If it’s there area, ask them to investigate the problem and come back with solutions (say three options) within a short time frame (say 2 weeks), and the you both decide on next step.

5 Draw the line.
If you did not get the desired result then you need to set a line in the sand to stop them

“If you don’t want to talk about a solution, that’s your decision. But I dint want to hear any more complaining and I don’t want you distracting the people around you by whining about problems to the, If it continue I’ll be forced to…”

“Our friendship is important, but there’s no point in complaining if nothing can be done, If you want to talk to me about solutions rather than just identifying problems my door is open.”

Whatever you do don’t allow them to draw you back in with their “but..”
Repeat your closing statement “As I said…” maybe even escort them out gently or turn away and walk off.

What to learn more about handling office personalities?
Have look through our other articles ore enrol in a workshop.