How to Deal With People That Complain All the Time

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Retired football coach and motivational speaker Lou Holtz once said, "Never tell your problems to anyone. Twenty percent don't care and the other 80 percent are glad you have them." Unfortunately, most people have either not heard this advice or refuse to take it. Almost everyone knows someone in life who is a chronic complainer. Finding ways to stop the stream of negativity is crucial to maintaining sanity when around complainers.


If you have a dog, you know how easily he can be distracted by the sight of a squirrel. Use a version of "Look at the squirrel!" to distract a person from an endless cycle of complaining. When you find yourself listening to your mother droning on and on about how much she hates living in her community, say something like, "Wow, have you noticed how early the trees are turning this fall? Why do you think that is?" Or redirect the conversation by asking her to recommend a decent dry cleaners in the area since yours is too expensive. Once she's off on another topic, she'll likely forget her complaints -- at least for the time being.


Let the person know that you understand his complaint, says Psychotherapist F. Diane Barth in a June 2012 article in "Psychology Today." You can say, "I know it is maddening when the weather is always above 100 degrees, but it's something we'll have to live with." Letting her know that you understand her grievances provides validation of her feelings, which may make it easier for her to move on to a different subject.

Set Limits

If a person won't change her topic of conversation, set firm limits on the amount of time you will listen to her complaints, Barth says. You might tell your friend who can't stop whining about her lack of romantic prospects that you can only talk on the phone for 15 minutes. You'll save yourself from an overload of negativity while sending a subtle message that the complainer needs to lighten up if she wants to enjoy your company. Such boundaries are a sign of self-respect, according to editor Margarita Tartakovsky. Don't allow guilt about not wanting to listen to complaining make you spend the next two hours listening to a lament about a bad boss.


If all of your efforts to curtail a person's complaining are to no avail, avoid him whenever possible so that his complaints don't bog down your mood like rain on freshly coiffed hair. Give him a special ring tone so that you can choose not to answer the phone when he calls to grumble about his money problems once again. Take a hiatus from hanging out, and if he asks you why, let him know that he just doesn't seem happy when he's in your company.