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Workplace Negativity - 19 February 2008

Chronic complainers are just like crying babies, so it's quite fitting that the techniques you'd use to calm a crying baby are similar to those you'd use to deal with complainers.

Diaper-change. They might not wear nappies, so what your complainers need is the freshness of a job change, a new project, or a different team. Even babies start to cry when they've been in the one position for too long.

Burping. This helps to rid the air that babies swallow during feeding. Your complainers also have air they need to express, so seek their feedback and act on their suggestions.

Sleep. Most people become irritable when they're tired. Since rocking a baby to sleep is effective, the equivalent is to look for signs of exhaustion in employees and then implement work/life balance initiatives to reduce the feelings of overwork.

Be present. Holding a crying baby close to your chest makes the baby feel safe. For whatever reason, your complainers may also be feeling vulnerable. Your presence and regular contact may be what they need to feel more secure.

Play games. Babies cry when they're bored, and so playing a game like peak-a-boo can calm them down. Your complainers might also be moaning simply because they need attention. Create a lively, energetic, interactive, and fun workplace to break any monotony.

Call a doctor. Babies cry incessantly when they're suffering from an illness, in which case you'd visit a doctor. Similarly, it could be that your complainer is suffering from depression or some kind of mental illness, and so a chat to a counsellor might help.

Sing a song. Or alternatively, have some music playing in the background. It's amazing the kind of impact that music has on mood levels.

Give them a dummy. When a complainer's behaviour affects the team, take action in the same way that a dummy pacifies a baby. Have a conversation with the complainer where you explain the impact they're having. Focus only on behaviours not personalities.

Feeding time. Sometimes babies are just hungry or thirsty. Check that your employees have enough breaks, and encourage a good diet by having healthy options available in vending machines and cafeterias.

Lastly, you'd cause more harm than good to a crying baby by shaking it. Likewise, aggressively confronting a complainer will only intensify their negativity.

 

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