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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 15, 2006

Cut short co-worker who wails and whines

By Marie G. McIntyre, Ph.D.
Knight Ridder News Service

Q. I have a co-worker who is disorganized, easily upset and in a high-anxiety crisis mode every single day. All conversations are about her problems: "My boyfriend didn't call me," "My allergies are acting up," "I'm having a bad hair day," and so on. Even though I'm not her manager, other people complain to me about her. They seem to expect me to do something. How can we keep our sanity?!


A. You seem to have attracted an emotional energy leech. These high-maintenance people can suck the life out of you with their whining and whimpering. If you respond to such attention-getting maneuvers, you will only add fuel to the fire. Since conversation requires two participants, the solution is to stop participating.

Politely tell the drama queen that you need to spend more time working and less time chatting. When she brings up boyfriend problems or bad hair days, just say, "I'm sorry to hear that," and go on about your business. She will eventually decide you are no fun to talk to.

On the other hand, do give her your full attention whenever the topic is related to work. Your goal is to reward appropriate discussion and discourage pity parties. If you can enlist your other colleagues in this effort, the whole department might get some peace.

You and the others should also cease the group gripe sessions about your officemate. Gossiping about her is just as unproductive as listening to her complain.

One word of caution: If your co-worker seems truly out of control, you need to involve someone in management or human resources. She could have a mental health problem that requires professional help.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics." Send in questions and get free coaching tips at www.yourofficecoach.com.