Great article in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal about how to deal with whiners at work.
The old advice goes in two directions: Walk away or just nod and go about your business. However, if you walk away the whiner may take offense and their negative feelings set up barriers to working with them. Worse yet, they may start yammering about what a jerk you are to other workers.
Nodding and simply moving on is almost as bad. When you’re nodding the whiner and others may see the gesture as agreement with the complaining. The whiner then believes you’re on his side and other people lump you in with the whiner. A Lose-Lose if there ever was one.
The best response to whining and the one I like is to ask the whiner, “What solution do you have?” Or, “What would you do about this?”
Usually, you’ll get some mumbling or a complaint that nothing can be done. If that’s the case simply shrug your shoulders and walk away. By putting the monkey on the whiner’s back you take yourself out of the equation. The best part is that if you ask for their solution often enough they’ll stop seeing you as an easy target and leave you alone or, at least, won’t complain around you. Win-Win!
Finally, the great thing about asking if they have a solution is that once in a Blue Moon, one chance in a hundred, they’ll have a solution that no one else thought about. The whining (at least about that topic) stops, they feel great for coming up with a solution and you created a positive situation.