Does your company have a Negative Nelly or Ned? Or even worse, are you the Negative Nelly or Ned in your company? Every company has at least one person who is constantly complaining and putting a damper on things.

Besides being annoying to listen to, the Negative Nelly or Ned in your company could be poisoning your corporate culture by spreading their negativity to other employees like a bad virus in flu season. Trying to shut them down, shut them up or ignore them only adds to the toxicity and now you are part of the problem.

Unfortunately, it’s become an all-too-common phenomenon in our culture. Complaining is not only an acceptable form of communication, but it is a successful way of getting attention. We unknowingly reward the victim mentality by paying attention, giving sympathy and creating reinforcement that only invites more complaining.

Instead of ignoring or punishing your Negative Nelly or Ned, try this simple coaching tool to help that person release some of the negativity. It’s called “The Dream Behind the Complaint”.

How to Deal with Constant Complainers

The next time your Negative Nelly or Ned starts complaining, ask the following series of questions:

Tell me more about that.” – This probably seems a little counterintuitive, bordering on just plain stupid if you think you have already gotten an earful. Why would you want to encourage the constant complainer to complain more? By showing an interest you are opening a positive connection and more likely to succeed at the next few steps. The key is putting a time limit on how long you listen to the complaining before you ask the next question (3 minutes maximum).

What is important about that to you?” – This step shifts the conversation from complaining to what is really bothering that person. It’s obviously important enough to them that they are complaining about it so your job is to get to the bottom of it, and rise above it. The complaining isn’t really about any particular situation; it’s a reflection of a larger issue that signals something being out of alignment. This also creates a shift from external need for change to an internal ownership of an experience.

What would you have liked to have happened?” – This is where you start to get into the dream behind the complaint. You will also notice something else happening: the complainer starts to lean into the positive, the unspoken expectation they had about something. Giving the dream some words and space helps them to become more aware of what they do want. It can also be equally sad, as the complainer becomes aware of something they need to grieve. Either way, you are moving forward to greater awareness.

When you turn the constant complainer into the dreamer, an important shift happens. It changes the energy of the situation. Physiologically, the neuron pathways in the brain are more able to be creative in finding a solution for the next time and create the experience they want.

This exercise not only allows them to vent, it moves them past the problem to talk about what they really want from a bigger picture place. It’s also a way to help them unravel things like values, purpose, and vision so they can increase awareness and ownership to do something about it.

It’s a useful tool to use on yourself when you notice yourself becoming a bit of a Negative Nelly or Ned. What I do whenever I find myself shifting into the negative is I stop and ask myself what it is that I really wanted to happen, that didn’t? How will I create that next time?

Sometimes all it takes is acknowledging it in order to release it and move on. It is also a way to reevaluate how things operate. Perhaps you need to need to make different agreements with the people involved.

What it does accomplish is shifting people from a victim mentality where they feel helpless and powerless to a go-getter mentality where they are clearer about what they do want, and take responsibility in coming up with and implementing with a solution. ‘The dream behind the complaint’ is a fast and simple tool to help you decrease complaining and increase solution thinking in your culture right now!

Need help getting your Negative Nelly or Ned back on track? Call me to arrange a group facilitation session!