by Colleen Kettenhofen

“The happiest people are those who are too busy
to notice whether they are or not.”
William Feather

Who are the difficult people in your life? Do you have to work or live with negativists, whiners and complainers? They are one of the most common difficult personalities in the workforce today.

Negativists: Believe it or not, research shows negativists have a strong need to be liked. They think that by complaining about how much work they have to do, they’ll gain empathy from others. Notice how these people often spend more time complaining than working? “Busy doing nothing” is how people typically describe the whiner in my seminars.

It pays to be tactfully direct with the negativist. For example, saying to them, “Chris, I realize this is something you want to talk about, and at the same time I want to make sure I get back to work.” Usually these whiners and complainers will move on to a more “captive audience.” Another key phrase is to say, “Chris, I want to bring something to your attention. You may not realize it, but when you come in here first thing at 8:00 a.m. and complain about our new policy, it’s beginning to look like a lot of negativity. I just wanted to mention it to you because you may not be aware of how you’re perceived.” (Read on for more details regarding tone of voice.) And make certain never to criticize via email. There is not “tone” in an email message. They may be fully aware. Explain it to them anyway.

Negativists want to whine to people who will “buy in” to what they’re complaining (or gossiping) about. When that happens, you’ve now got two individuals “feeding” off of each other. The people who allow the complainer to take over the conversation feel angry with themselves afterward for allowing it to happen. They sense they enabled the behavior because they’re “people pleasers” who can’t say no. If this is you, it pays to practice role-playing with a friend who can give you honest feedback. How did you come across? Were you too tentative or too aggressive? What did your body language and tone of voice say about you? Remember, in face-to-face communication, body language accounts for 55% of what others believe about you. Tone of voice accounts for 38% and actual words only 7%..

As a former manager, I used to tell my employees to be “tactfully” direct with a negative coworker. I certainly did speak privately with the difficult employee, but my subordinates also had to do their part. Be careful not to internalize everything these difficult people say to you. Often there is something going on with them. As a result, they’ve decided to take it out on everyone else! Remember, misery loves company.

Consider writing your true feelings about this difficult individual in a journal. Make certain to leave it in your car. This is not the kind of documentation you would want them to see! When you arrive home, tear up the pages or burn them. This signals that you are not letting their behavior affect you. The person who consistently angers you…controls you.

December 30, 2004

You are free to reprint or repost this article for use in your newsletters, association publications, or intranet provided Colleen Kettenhofen’s contact information (name, website, and email) is included with the article. Colleen Kettenhofen is a Phoenix, Arizona motivational speaker, trainer, & co-author of “The Masters of Success ,” featured on NBC’s Today Show, along with Ken Blanchard and Jack Canfield. For free articles, video clips, and e-newsletter, visit Colleen’s area of expertise are leadership, managing people, life balance, difficult people, presentation skills. Colleen is available for keynotes, breakout sessions and seminars.


She can be reached at contact information listed below:

Colleen Kettenhofen

(971) 212-0479


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