Complainers. We’ve all been unhappy, but when you are on the receiving end, when is it time to call it quits? Thanks for suggesting this one [anon], it is a great topic! Love it.

I think the appeal to me about this topic is that I can absolutely assume that we have each been on both sides. And that we will each have a different opinion.

A quick Google search results in a lot of articles on ‘Chronic complainers’. Clearly a well-defined medical condition which can be diagnosed and cut out *tongue in cheek*. Sounds too much like our detached and “someone else’s problem” society again. Too easy.

So what are the real questions at play here?
– Is the person complaining about something real or unreal?
– Is it real and I just can’t see it or understand it? Will I be crazy not to listen?
– Even if they are right what can be done?
– What is the impact to me and them if I try to support them?
– What is the impact to me, them and others if I just to tolerate it?
The complication is that the more unhappy people become the worse their ability to logically and rationally represent the issue becomes. And then the easier it becomes for us to write them off as just “complainers”.

I am not sure there are any rules to knowing what is real or unreal. In my experience people explain/cope with/rationalise their struggles in very subjective ways. And as those struggling we may not even really understand what is going on. In a group context, if there seems to be a lot of dissatisfaction, someone trying to find the underlying cause has a real challenge in front of them since everyone will represent it differently. Then if they are not independent they will probably look for the causes that make sense to, or suits them. Or issues are taken on face value because acknowledging/finding a shared cause is far more serious. Even the independent consultants I have worked with struggle to find the root cause of team/company cultural issues (also because the field is full of pretenders).

Instead of finding rules on what is real or unreal.

In the workplace: I challenge people’s ability to consider that everyone offers something. And that it is our failing (as a business or individual) not to recognise it. Specifically I challenge the ‘poor cultural fit’ rationalisations provided by those who have either the lack of care, ability or capacity to do what is required. This is where leaders break away from managers.

In general: What obligation do we have to each other? Regardless of how or why you now know this “complainer” – this person. They have dreams, thoughts and feelings. If they are struggling to cope, to understand etc; don’t we each have an obligation to help them? Or if their place in life is not right for them then shouldn’t we help them come to terms with that?

I guess from my perspective it comes down to the effort and absence of an “I did all I could” point. Working with someone through the issues to the best of our ability, providing the tough feedback, together agreeing on a solution and then assisting them is really the only acceptable outcome.

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