How To Protect Yourself From The Chronic Complainers

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Have you ever worked with someone who complained constantlyI bet you have. 

I remember a small group of nurses on the first unit I ever worked. These nurses would spend their time complaining about EVERYTHING! They were unhappy with administration, the food in the cafeteria, their coworkers, and of course, their pay.  

It wasn’t like they just said a comment here or there – no, they complained EVERYWHERE – ithe break room, in the cafeteria, and especially at the nurses’ station. This group of nurses was chronic complainers. They were in the “Ain’t it awful club.”  

Everything they talked about was how awful, not good enough, or who was to blame for something. I couldn’t stand listening to their moaning, groaning, and whining. I would look for other places to eat lunch or even chart, just to avoid the chronic complaints.  

After about five years, I left that position for a homecare agency and then for a managed care company. The managed care job required me to visit local hospitals to ensure patients were receiving the right level of care. One day, I was sent to the same hospital, where I received my first nursing job. I knew I would get to reconnect with the nurses and doctors there, and I was excited to see a few familiar faces. Of course, some nurses had moved on, and others were still there.  

One group, in particular, remained almost unchanged. Can you guess who?  

If you said the “Ain’t it awful club – you’re rightNot only were they still in the same job, but they were complaining about the same things! They were stuck while I and others managed to move on. 

Remembering this story reminds me of the importance of never joining this club if you want to have a fulfilling career as a nurse 

The key is to protect yourself from the chronic complainers or before you know, you’ll become one of them. 

Chronic complainer characteristics 

They see the world as negative 

Chronic complainers don’t see themselves as negative. They perceive the world as negative place and believe they just get the short end of the stick every dayIf they come across as negative, they often think that they are just “telling the truth”That it’s not complaining at all. You and I know that reality is just perception and their perception of the world is negative. 

They want sympathy 

Chronic complainers are looking for emotional validation. They want you to agree with them and even join them when placing blame on othersThey don’t just want you to say that the nurse manager messed up, but they want you to see how hard it was on them.  

They want to infect others 

Misery loves company, like they say. Chronic complainers don’t just want you to listen to them. They want you to complain and be unhappy too. And, if you spend enough time with them, you will start seeing things as “awful” too. You can blame mirror neurons. 

Did you know that you have neurons in your brain that mirror the actions of others? It’s true, and they are called mirror neurons. They can make you remember the pain of breaking your wrist three years ago if you see it happen to someone else, and can even make you a chronic complainer if you engage with others who are known for these behaviors.  

And when you surround yourself with complainers it has a negative impact on YOUR brain?  Yes! Studies show that when you’re exposed to complaining, you start complaining too and doing this impacts your brain in a negative way. You need to be smart and protect yourself. 

Protecting yourself from the complainers 

You might be wondering how to protect yourself from this club. This can be especially true if you work with more chronic complainers than positive teammates. However, here are a few strategies you can try: 

Listen to what you say  

It’s easy to complain. In fact, it’s kind of human nature. You need to train your ears to hear complaining and put on the brakes! When you start complaining often, try to do a few things to combat the complaints, like write in a gratitude journal or send a few thank you notes to coworkers.  

Get to the bottom of the complaints  

It’s okay to be unhappy or dissatisfied with work. But, if you start complaining about the nurse manager, it’s a good idea to think about what is really bothering you. Are they always late for team meetings, or do they wait until the last minute to put out the schedule for the month? These are tangible actions that you can discuss with your manager, not just a general complaint that they are “annoying.” 

Redirect the complainers  

If you get caught in the middle of an “Ain’t it awful club” meeting, don’t let them drag you down. Let them know that you acknowledge how they feel and then redirect them to take some action. For example, Mary, a chronic complainer, says, “Joy called in again.” All you need to do is say something like this, “Yeah, I hope she’s okay. We need to pull together as a team and do our best for the patients, right?” This lets Mary know that you’re not assuming Joy did this on purpose and you all still have a job to do.   

Let’s face it, being a nurse isn’t easy. However, nursing is one of the only professions that gives you a daily chance to make a difference in someone’s life. If you are too busy complaining and saying, “ain’t it awful,” you will never feel good about your role as a nurse, and you won’t make it far.  

Bottom line is this; protect yourself from the chronic complainers by limiting your exposure to them. Just like Gandhi said so wisely, “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”  


Do you know your own group of chronic complainers? Have you ever had to walk away or put yourself on notice about your negative thoughts or statements? If so, I’d love to hear how you handled the situation. Leave your comments below.

Click here to get your copy of Renee’s first book
“Do No Harm” Applies to Nurses too!
Strategies to Protect & Bully-proof Yourself at Work.

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