How to Deal With Toxic Complainers: Bobby Black-Hole

Jun 22, 2020

The Rolling Stones sang, “You can’t always get what you want.” You can’t always choose the people you work with either. But when you have a choice, avoid relationships with toxic complainers.


  1. Negative opinions are more powerful than positive.

  2. Hanging with negative people makes you a negative person.

  3. Stress from negativity makes you stupid.

How to deal with Bobby Black-Hole:

An imperfect step forward is better than circling the black-hole.

If you enjoy dark clouds and dreary days, listen to the repeated complaints of Mr. Black-Hole month after mind-numbing month.

Tip: Monitor conversations. How much time is spent complaining? Solution-finding?

Skillful leaders understand that conversations have trajectory.

Positive conversations generate options and solutions. Negative conversations focus on problems.

Conversations that exclude solution-finding reflect learned helplessness. Mr. Black-Hole has stopped trying because he feels he can’t make change.

Symptoms of learned helplessness include lack of motivation, stress, anxiety, perfectionism, and burnout.

Tip: Spend more time generating solutions and less time complaining about problems. Try a 4:1 ratio; five minutes focused on problems and 20 minutes generating solutions. (I realize that’s a lofty goal.)

Dealing with Mr. Black-Hole:

  1. Connect. “Oh, that must be frustrating.”

  2. “How long has this been happening?”

    • “How have you tried to improve this concern?”

    • “Why are we talking about this if you haven’t tried to fix it?”

    • “I’m just curious; are you asking me to fix this?”

  3. “Hey Mr. Black-Hole, this is the third time we’ve talked about the same issue. Let’s talk about something else.”

  4. If Mr. Black-Hole continues to spiral, do your best to avoid him. You might introduce him to someone you don’t like.

If you have a strong relationship with Mr. Black-Hole, give him a compassionate kick in the pants. “If you weren’t complaining, what would you be saying?”

An imperfect step forward is better than circling the black-hole.

How might leaders deal with chronic complainers?

Bonus material:

The Secret to Dealing with Chronic Complainers (Huffpost)

By Dan Rockwell