Optimists see a glass half full, pessimists see a glass half empty.

Chronic complainers see a glass holding water that is either going to be too cold or too warm and probably has tap water instead of the bottled water they asked for and I bet there is a chip on the glass rim somewhere and most likely the glass was not cleaned properly because the water was not hot enough, oh look it has a smudge on it, I knew it, I’ll probably catch a cold if not worse, life is the pits, and I’m surrounded by incompetents, why me?

The first thing to understand about a chronic complainer is that the problem being presented, while perhaps real enough, is rarely the true issue. Chronic complainers often see their lives as one of hardship and struggle, and this point of view is often deeply embedded in their self-concept. Any response that suggests that their problems are solvable, not as insurmountable as they need to believe, will be taken as a direct attack upon their sense of identity. Anything that diminishes the magnitude of their “trials and tribulations” will be seen as threatening.

1. Acknowledge their world view. This is not the same as agreeing with them, it is simply understanding and accepting the existence of their personal beliefs, which to them are very much the only reality.

2. Do not try to convince them they might be over-reacting or that things are not as bad as they may seem. This is a direct affront to their core belief system and they must reject it or abandon their whole life’s story. Instead, validate their feelings even if you do not agree with their conclusions or viewpoint. Your response must be sincere, authentic, and from the heart—human to human.

3. If you have an obligation or a responsibility (he or she is a Resident), empathize, then set a time limit or ask for a desired solution: “Wow, I can see you are upset, most people would be in your situation. What specifically can I do to help? What exactly would you like me to do?”

4. If the chronic complainer won’t come to the point, set a time limit: “I very much want to do everything in my power to help you, but my time is limited. I only have another 5 minutes. Can we set up an appointment for you to come back or is there something in my power I can do for you right now?”

5. If the chronic complainer asks for an unreasonable solution, reply, “That is not possible, but I can do A, B, or C. Which would help you the most?” If he continues to seek an unreasonable solution, punt and go back to “my time is limited” and try to set up a timeline requiring the maximum initiative on his part to continue while always holding out your solution as an immediately available default solution: “Can you contact me in a week or ten days? It will take at least that long to see if X is possible and I’m not very optimistic as it has never been approved before. In the meantime, if you decide that A, B, or C would improve things, just drop me an email and I’ll get it done the next day.” Note that your solution is characterized as an improvement versus a solution that is less threatening to a chronic complainer’s world view.