In a meeting recently I heard some of the following. “This is the worst possible thing that can happen.” “We can never do that because…” “Isn’t that just awful?” These comments and many more like them started to dominate the discussion and set the tone of the meeting as one of negativity and defeat. As I left the meeting and reflected on my own feelings, I wondered how we could ever accomplish the task or achieve anything in that group. I felt defeated and wanted to go home and whine to my wife about how bad things are and how nobody wants to do anything anymore.
The next morning, it hit me like a brick falling on my foot. I had let a person using whining behavior affect my own attitude, and therefore, impact my behavior. I had become a whiner.
I’ll bet most people at some point in their life run across a person demonstrating whining behavior. And this behavior may be some of the most difficult to deal with when working with people. At first reaction you just want to slap the person and tell that person to shut up. If you don’t have any good ideas for making things better don’t say anything. And yet, it is so easy to slip into this behavior myself.
As a result I went to my trusted resource, Dealing With People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst by Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner. I reviewed the intent behind the whining behavior to get a better understanding of what is happening. It started to make sense. The intent behind the whining behavior is “to get it right.” When a person starts out with the intent to get it right and he or she can’t achieve that intent, things appear disorganized and careless. The person begins to feel as if she or he can do nothing to correct the outcome; to get it right. Therefore, the individual now looks at things from a perfectionist perspective and all he or she sees is imperfection. The resulting outcome is to identify everything that is wrong about the situation and complain about it to anyone who will listen. The individual, feeling helpless to get it right, focuses only on what is wrong and not on any solutions. As a result the behavior becomes one of whining about all of the things going wrong.
Now that I had the understanding of the behavior, I needed to figure out how I was going to deal with it and not become a whiner myself. In the book, the authors define what they call the “Whiner Don’ts.” I find them important enough to repeat them here:
- “Don’t agree with Whiners, as it just encourages them to keep complaining.”
- “Don’t disagree with them, as they will feel compelled to repeat their problems.”
- “Don’t try to solve their problems for them—you can’t.”
- “Never ask them why they are complaining to you about their problems. They hear this as an invitation to start all over again from the beginning.”
Instead I need to remember to have patience, compassion, and commitment. I need to be patient and remember that the whining behavior is the result of unrealistic, perfectionist, standards for the way things need to happen. I need to have compassion for the person demonstrating this whining behavior because this person’s life is out of control. And I need to be committed to the process of helping this person focus on solutions, no matter how long it takes.
With patience I can be prepared to listen carefully for the main points the person is trying to make. When I hear those points, I can write them down so that I can come back to the points as we work towards a solution. However, as I’m listening, I need to make certain the individual doesn’t just keep complaining. I need to be ready to interrupt and break the person’s roll. When I interrupt, I need to ask for clarification in order to get to the specifics of the issue. These specifics will help when trying to identify a solution. After all, getting to a solution is the desired outcome. By focusing on the specifics I can now direct the conversation toward possible solutions that the person identifies to deal with that issue or problem.
By helping the person identify a solution you are also helping the person gain a hopeful perspective on the future. The individual begins to feel that he or she can do something positive. However, I will also need to be prepared that if the person exhibiting the whining behavior returns to whining, I need to be ready to stop all interaction with the person. I can’t be drawn back into the whining again and end up being a whiner myself.
Now I’m prepared to deal with the individual demonstrating the whining behavior. I can spend my time looking for the whiner and be prepared to address the behavior.
Until next time, enjoy the snow and cold temperature, if that is possible.