You can spot them by the frowns of disapproval that seem permanently etched on their faces, the waves of negative energy they bring with them into the room and the always-complaining, never-satisfied critiques of the world around them.
These griping types seem most alive when expressing their judgments — and when bringing others down to their bummed-out point of view. What do you do if you don’t want to follow them into negativeland?
California-based Zen teacher Cheri Huber suggests one overarching principle for stress-free encounters with these folks: Don’t try to rebuke or change them, but simply stay positive yourself. “If you stay focused on what’s interesting and exciting for you,” she says, “you can come out of even the most negative conversation inspired.”
Negative, critical complainers.
Work colleagues, friends or family members who are habitual gripers — embittered or glum types who never seem satisfied or approving, and who sometimes seem intent on bringing everyone else into their dark gray cloud of negativity.
Barriers to Overcome
Being reactive: Your first impulse might be to snap at one of these naysayers. “When you do that, you’re just adding more negative energy,” says Huber. “You’ll feel bad — and they’ll just go looking for the next person to bother.”
The temptation to join: The complaint club is always seeking new members. Particularly in the workplace, says Huber, “Griping is one of the ways you can fit in.” But there are better ways to connect.
Repressing your frustration: “You may think, I can stand it, he’ll go away soon, I should just rise above it,” says Huber. Unfortunately, if you regularly push your own feelings away, your frustration is likely to eat away at you.
A desire to change them: Nothing is more maddening than trying to make people change their behavior, and in any case, most complainers don’t believe that they are, in fact, negative. “They usually think they’re just being constructive and authentic,” says Huber.
How to Cope
Choose your response: The complainer isn’t making you angry; you’re agreeing to be triggered into anger, says Huber. “If you know what triggers you in an encounter with a complainer, then you know what your defensive moves should be. Watch for triggers and train yourself to have a different response to them.”
Decide what they mean to you: If you don’t value a complainer’s opinions in any area and have the option of avoiding them, the best thing is to steer clear or cut short your interactions in a pleasant and compassionate way, Huber suggests.
Go positive on them: When a complainer confronts you with a list of ills, agree that they need to be changed and suggest solutions that excite and inspire you. “There’s nothing more annoying to someone who wants to complain than somebody who turns the complaint into something positive or comes up with a real solution,” says Huber.
Stay positive yourself: “You need to decide for yourself that whatever the world sends your way, your job is to see it as a blessing, an opportunity,” she says.
This article originally appeared as “Gloomy Gripers” in the November 2008 issue of Experience Life.