Optimists believe the glass is half full; pessimists believe the glass is half empty; chronic complainers believe the water is tepid, the glass has a smudge and wait, is that a streak on the side because I just got new dish washing detergent that isn't supposed to leave streaks, so great, what a waste of money, it's just so unfair, why do these things keep happening to me?
Being around a constant complainer is exhausting and irritating, but it can impact us in subtle ways as well. When someone around us tends to think and react in negative and pessimistic ways we can "catch" their way of thinking without realizing it. For example, one study found that college roommates of people with negative thinking styles became more negative themselves over the course of the year.
What makes it so difficult to deal with chronic complainers is how resistant they are to support, cheering-up or advice. Indeed, trying to be helpful in such ways will probably backfire because more often than not, nothing makes a chronic complainer happier than being totally miserable.
The secret to dealing with a chronic complainer is to first understand his or her mindset:
1. Chronic complainers do not usually see themselves as negative people -- they see the world as negative and themselves as merely responding appropriately to annoying, aggravating and unfortunate circumstances. In other words, they complain excessively because they believe they have ample reason to do so. Therefore, do not try to convince a chronic complainer the specific situation they are in or their life as a whole is not as bad as they think -- they will happily bring up other misfortunes to convince you it is.
2. Chronic complainers complain for one main reason -- to get sympathy and validation for how bad, unfair, or annoying their situation is. Therefore, the quickest way to cut a complaining soliloquy short is to give them what they seek -- express sympathy, validate their feelings and then redirect them back to whatever you were doing (e.g., "Your neighbors had another noisy party? Wow, you have had such bad luck with apartments! You must be super annoyed! That's really hard to shrug off but I hope you can be a trooper because we really need to get this report ready for the meeting.")
3. Chronic complainers constantly focus on the negative because being victims or unfortunates is a part of their very identity. That is why they react poorly to advice because resolving the issue would take away public recognition of their 'hardship' and threaten their sense of self. Therefore, do not offer advice and stick to sympathy and emotional validation. However, in cases in which the person's problem is authentically distressing and you have valuable advice that could truly help, offer sympathy first, make the advice short and to the point and do not repeat or elaborate it if you get rebuffed.