• December 2012

Why Adults Whine and How to Stop Them

By Lisa Earle McLeod
Keynote Speaker and Author
McLeod & More, Inc.

Nobody likes a whiner. Some of us can’t help casting judgmental eye rolls when we witness kids whining in public—“But I want my juice pop noooowww!”—but in my experience, adults are way worse whiners than kids.

Kids are up front about their whining. Adults, however, often try to crowbar whining into casual conversation. Ask a colleague or neighbor how they’re doing and see how long it takes before the conversation degenerates into a whine.

Any of these sound familiar?

  • “Man, I’m working my buns off! My travel schedule is a killer.”
  • “Crazy busy, trying to keep up with the kids, pay bills, and keep us afloat.”

I’d roll my own eyes if I hadn’t uttered those exact sentences many times myself.

So why do we seem so predisposed to whining?

Two reasons, one is valid and the other is not.

Valid reason: We crave connection. Sharing your woes with another person makes you feel a little less alone in the world. We want other people to “feel our pain,” to share in our ups and downs, and to acknowledge our efforts. This is not a bad thing. When you’re feeling down, comforting words from someone who cares can be a soft safe place to land.

But unfortunately whining can become a habit. Our natural desire for connection often leads us to false conclusions about how other people will respond when they hear our woes.

Invalid reason: We want to be admired.

We (mistakenly) believe that if others truly understood how tough we have it, they would respect and admire us. Sadly, it doesn’t work this way. Telling people how hard things are evokes pity and sympathy at best, and boredom and disdain at worst.

For example, if someone starts to complain about their soo busy schedule and how tired they are, what goes through your mind?

Do you think, “Wow, I really admire this person?” Probably not. More likely you think: “That sounds awful! I’m glad I don’t have your life.”

Or, “You think you have a crazy schedule? Let me tell you mine.” Whining is a race to the bottom that you don’t want to win.

So what’s the difference between sharing your troubles and flat-out whining?

Two factors to consider: your audience and their likely response.

For example, when CEOs publicly whine about market conditions or government regulations, it has a chilling effect on customers and employees. People may feel bad for the boss, but pity isn’t exactly a brand builder, nor does it boost morale.

The same thing is true when we whine to acquaintances about our coworkers, boss, or kids. People aren’t likely to respond in a way that’s helpful for us. Whining to an inappropriate audience is basically saying, “Please feel sorry for me because I’m a victim with no power to influence my circumstances.”

If you want to keep other people from whining, the first step is to stop engaging in it yourself.

There’s a simple question to stop whining in its tracks: “So what are you going to do about it?”

You can use it on yourself and others. It moves you out of whine mode and into problem-solving.

Whether it’s your kid complaining about a teacher, an employee whining about suppliers, or yourself venting about your spouse, give it a few minutes of supportive listening, then ask, “What are you going to do about it?”

Whining is like cheap wine, sweet on your lips, but if you indulge too often, you’ll never get anything done.


About Lisa Earle McLeod

Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant. Companies such as Apple, Kimberly-Clark, and Pfizer hire her to help them create passionate, purpose-driven sales forces. She’s the author of The Triangle of Truth, which The Washington Post named a “Top Five Book for Leaders.” She has appeared on “Today,” and has been featured in Forbes, Fortune and The Wall Street Journal. She provides executive coaching sessions, strategy workshops, and keynote speeches. Click here to learn more: www.lisaearlemcleod.com.