Ask the grumpies: How do you steer a conversation away from complaining?

Debbie M asks:

how do you steer conversation away from complaining? I like a good rant as much as the next person, and sadly I also complain as much as the next person. But I don’t like that.

Some negative things absolutely need to be discussed and handled, and some problems need venting. But I don’t want those to be the ONLY topics of conversation for hours on end. Think: complaining about work problems in a very repetitive way. Probably shouting, “You already told me that three times!” is not ideal.

Just three?  You’re lucky!

Not so long ago (before someone switched jobs) I may have asked #2 a “hypothetical” question similar to this one.  She suggested kitten pictures, but I kind of wonder if that’s just rewarding the problem.  (She also got the hint though… especially when my immediate reaction the next time was to send kitten pictures.)

#2:  My favorite topic-changer is to talk about kittens.  No matter what the conversation is about, just start talking about how kittens are great, they are so fluffy and pouncy and cute and they hop and they purr…

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17 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: How do you steer a conversation away from complaining?”

  1. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    Our long-running, half-serious abrupt change of subject is “So how about them Packers?” Like, “What do you think of the current president?” “Hmm. How about them Packers?”

  2. Leah Says:

    For my kids: “can we brainstorm some solutions to this problem?” A little harder to say that to adults . . .

  3. Tinkering Theorist Says:

    “Has anything similar happened before?” then “How did you handle that/what worked for you then?”

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      With repeated complaints, you know that something similar happened before because they told you about it! But another way for the complainer to think twice about targeting you with the next repetition.

      • chacha1 Says:

        In previous incarnations I would have more-or-less patiently let it blow past. I would now be inclined to say ‘has anything changed since the last time we talked about this.’ Because I am really done with everybody’s bitching, including mine. So sick of my own discontent. :-)

  4. xykademiqz Says:

    As annoying as constant complaining may be, I often (not always) have sympathy for the complainers. I mean, when a person feels so overwhelmed and bewildered by something that is happening to them, it’s hard to talk about much else. When a one-time friend was going through her divorce, that is all she could talk about for months because it was a real shitshow. I can understand her but that doesn’t mean I could really endure to listen to it as much as she needed. There is naturally a narcissistic element to great distress, so I don’t begrudge the complainer, but that doesn’t mean that my ability to maintain one-sided relationships where I only listen is endless.

  5. rose Says:

    Similar issue: how to change a conversation away from current national politics and … keep it off as so much of the news relates….. even the weather can easily go to climate change issues…….

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Well, I like to lecture people and ask them what they’re doing to fix the problem (if they’re lazy bernie bros) or I just say that that sounds kinda racist and walk away if they’re Trumplovers.

  6. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    If it’s endless work whining, versus legit complaining about something so they can work through the problem, I start to reply: oooh I am really not the person to talk to about this.

  7. Xin Says:

    That’s a tough question for me. When I was much younger, I was probably the worst offender of anyone I knew, haha. (I’m much better about it now.)

    I don’t think any of my good friends are capable of complaining about anything too much for me. We encounter a lot of things that should be complained about, particularly typical law firm weirdness and bad management, as well as implicit bias and discrimination at work.

  8. Debbie M Says:

    Thanks for all the ideas!

    And now you have me thinking, “And how does that make you feeeel?” (Oh, so mean!)


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