10 Communication Techniques To Deal With Chronic ComplainersPick the Brain

So, who are chronic complainers?

Chronic complainers are behavioral problem people who tend to surmise that they are meant to bring up every issue with the world, while you must fix them. They can be a friend, a customer, a student, a co-worker, an employee, a student, a child, or even a spouse.

Why Complain?

Complaining isn’t all bad.  Occasional venting and expression of negative emotions to a colleague about difficult situations allow us to get our concerns out into the open, and in doing so, lessen possible stress reactions. Repressing our feelings may stop us from naming our problem and getting to the bottom of it. People also complain in order to feel better about themselves. Returning to Peter, perhaps he wanted Lisa’s validation for how unfair or annoying his situation was and to establish some kind of emotional connection.

But complaints can also be used as a way to exercise power and influence perceptions. Especially within organizations, which can be hotbeds of political games, people use complaining in order to get people’s support. On this interpretation, Peter might have been trying to recruit Lisa to his point of view concerning what he thought was wrong with some of the people in their organization.

In many cases, chronic complaining starts early in life, as a means of gaining visibility and establishing rapport in the family. These early experiences can become deeply ingrained patterns of behavior, and in Peter’s case, may have become part of his identity.  This would explain why he reacts poorly to advice because resolving his problem would take away the reason to complain, threatening his sense of self.


Customer complaint checklist

Solving customer complaints is a lot like putting out fires. It’s reactive, and no matter how good your product or service is, it’s impossible to please all of your customers.

The next time you receive a complaint, use the following 5 step check list in order to respond, resolve and keep your customer happy.

  1. Acknowledge the complaint
  2. Inform the customer that you are taking action
  3. Record and categorize the customer complaint
  4. Resolve the complaint according to company policy
  5. Follow up with the customer to make sure they are satisfied

Handling customer complaints is an ongoing process. You can use web forms to collect complaints from your website and then use customer service software to store the complaint on each customer profile. Remember to monitor complaints on a weekly or monthly basis so you can track new complaints and trends, and be sure to follow up on open complaints.

It’s worth reminding, but if a customer leaves you, you lose business. So, don’t be afraid to escalate reoccurring complaints to top management in order to get them resolved quickly.


Customer complaints are important.

And there’s no better way to collect direct feedback from your customers and improve your product or service.

However, the way you handle a complaint is the difference between keeping a customer or losing one. So, the next time you receive a customer complaint, listen to what the customer has to say, apologize (!), find a solution and follow up to see if he or she is happy with the way you are handling it.

In doing so, you are on your way to creating more loyal customers, improving your product and delivering a better quality of customer service.

How do you manage customer complaints?

Looking forward to hearing from you below.

P.S. If you’re looking for further tips on how to improve complaints, download the free customer service email templates white paper.

Customer Service

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Practice a few quick, light or even playful phrases that you can choose from to change the subject from negative to positive. Examples…

• “Wow, Mom, the doctor kept you waiting at the nursing home—sorry to hear it. What did he say is causing the pain in your hip?”

• “That does sound like something to complain about. Tell me something that’s going right. There’s so much negativity in the world, it’s starting to get to me, and some positive news would be a big help.”

• If you’re in a group that’s complaining: “Hey, everybody, we’re becoming a tad negative. Given the state of the world, we have more to be thankful for than upset about. Can we change the subject?”

Recognize When Its Time to Escalate

If behaviors do not change, it’s time to move from coaching to counseling. ​Coaching is designed to elicit positive change in behaviors by offering guidance, encouragement, and specific action steps.

Counseling offers clear feedback that the behaviors are unacceptable and identifies the implications of failing to change them. When counseling, you can help yourself by:

  • Working with your human resources manager to structure a counseling approach and plan.
  • Ensuring you document all of the prior feedback, coaching and counseling.
  • Presenting the employee with a performance improvement program that clearly defines the outcomes for improving or failing to do so.
  • Ensuring you follow up with the employee at the established times, and measuring their performance only against the agreed-upon parameters.

While chronic complainers seem harmless on the surface, the damage may become irreparable in the long run. You owe it to your team, your firm, and yourself to remove toxic behavior from the workplace.

Build a Healthy Work Environment

Creating an environment where motivated employees are encouraged and given the freedom to do their best work is a primary concern for every manager. It starts with hiring the right people and creating a culture of accountability for negative behaviors, including identifying and remedying problems. There’s no room for chronic complainers in a healthy workplace.

Dealing with Truly Toxic People

The above techniques work well with garden-variety pessimists. With even stronger toxic negativity, you need to take a different approach.

The toxic person isn’t looking for support but for control. He gains that control by throwing you off balance with upsetting, manipulative or irrational behavior.

You are dealing with a toxic person if he claims that his negative circumstances are your fault…goes beyond complaining to criticize or verbally attack you…twists your words so that you end up confused and frustrated.

Simple strategy: While the toxic person is ranting, look him in the eye neutrally and nonconfrontationally. When he’s done, pause for two to four seconds—a little longer than is customary in conversation. Then, in a matter-of-fact tone, say one of the following…

• “Do you want to run that by me again?”

• “Would you say that to me again in a quieter voice?”

• “Do you actually believe what you just said?”

These responses work because they let the toxic person know that you are onto him and won’t be provoked into an argument or outburst.

Rehearse these responses until you can keep your demeanor both pleasant and assertive when you speak. (For more on dealing with toxic people, read 8 Ways to Mange the Impossible Person in Your Life.)

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