I need advice on how to deal with this co-worker that complains VERY ferociously about issues, with almost all of them being minor issues. If I do not cut her off she seems to go on forever. Once I was listening to her complain about something that is a essentially a non-issue for several minutes with her basically ignoring my explanations. How can I disengage from this individual without getting stressed, but while still being professional?

  • Can you be a little more specific? Do you want to professionally get her to stop a rant? Or would you rather find a way to address to her that she's doing this? Or do you want a way to disengage? If you can make your example more specific, that would help a bit more as well. Such as, one of these non-issues and what she said vs what you tried to explain and how she ignored these. (Literally not acknowledging them, or dismissing them?) – Kendra Dec 26 '17 at 19:44
  • Given that this is related to co-workers, you might also be able to post this at The Workplace, which might come up with some non-interpersonal solutions for this issue. – Erik Dec 26 '17 at 19:45
  • Edited post for clarity. – Mike Z Dec 26 '17 at 19:50
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    Ok I changed it to just disengage. How should I do that? – Mike Z Dec 26 '17 at 20:02
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    " How can I disengage from this individual without getting stressed, but while still being professional?" What do you mean by "professional"? It's unprofessional to complain ad nauseum. What do you do when your co-worker starts to complain? Why are you engaging? I'm not sure what you are asking. – anongoodnurse Dec 26 '17 at 23:56

I've had a couple coworkers like that over the years. (None currently, fortunately.) The way I shut them down was to say approximately this:

Gosh, it sounds like this has you really upset. What did {your boss, HR, the head of IT, the ethics hotline, etc} say when you brought it up with them?

It's important to frame it as "what did they say?" rather than "have you talked to them about this?". Your presumption is that this is so important to the person that surely she's already raised it with appropriate people. (The "gosh", or similar expression, is important; it conveys support and sets the stage for what follows.)

There are two possibilities. The likely one is that she hasn't done this. In that case you say something like "well I don't think I can help you, but they can". If she actually has brought it up with appropriate people, then you can say something like "well, I guess you need to wait for them to resolve it". Both of these communicate "I cannot help you" and deflect focus to those who can.

Either way, you then exit the conversation in the same way you exit any other conversation that you no longer have time for or can't contribute usefully to -- stepping away if you're standing, turning back to your work if you're at your desk, saying "well, I've got to get back to work now", or whatever applies in your particular context.

  • This seems like something worth doing. Will tell you if it works! – Mike Z Dec 27 '17 at 16:18

I would explain to her that you have a different tolerance/enthusiasm for complaining. You might start by saying something along the lines of, "I seems like one way for you to relieve stress is to vocalize and complain about things that bother you. I imagine it makes you feel better to tell someone else what is bothering you and why. Unfortunately, I am just the opposite - while I agree that some of the things you talk about might also bother me, I personally get stressed discussing them. I know that it helps you to talk about them but it does the opposite for me - I'd prefer to not dwell on negative things - my personality type doesn't do well with them"

This will undoubtedly be a little awkward to express and you should put it in your own words, but I think making this about you and your personal preference against complaining and not a criticism of her will help. By acknowledging that you understand that it may be helpful to her will hopefully open her mind slightly to consider that it is not helpful but rather harming to you.

Best of luck.

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    I recommend not starting with an amateur diagnosis of the other person. It might be wrong, which gives them something to argue about, and it's not relevant. What matters here is how you feel, which is you don't want to hear this any more. If you want to start with "meeting her where she is" then a brief "It sounds like this is really difficult for you" is a sympathetic approach that doesn't tell someone what they are like. – Kate Gregory Dec 26 '17 at 20:48
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    I think this approach would give ME more stress. I am not trying to change her behavior I am trying to get out of it once I get sucked in. – Mike Z Dec 26 '17 at 21:22

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