Solution Focused Coaching Questions To Combat Chronic Complainers

Posted On: April 1, 2022

Starting the day hearing someone complain can be a real downer. Did you know that you can use coaching questions to combat chronic complainers?

These questions can also be used for self-coaching as well. I know from experience as I have used these strategies for myself and others, with generally good results in normal, everyday conversation or outside of a coaching interaction.


In fact, this was voiced a recent free coaching memeetup with Solutions Academy, one of the participants mentioned,

“One of the reasons I love Solution Focused coaching methods is that I can use them in everyday conversations. “


What Inspired me to Create a List of Coaching Questions To Combat Chronic Complainers

Today I was listening to a video on how to combat chronic complaining. While this video focused mostly on how we can do that for ourselves, the commentator did mention how we can do this to others as well. As she was talking about this, it got me thinking that I already do this with the use of simple coaching questions based on the Solution Focused coaching framework.


Chronic complaining is so ingrained in our society it’s usually part and parcel of daily conversations. We bond over it. But somehow when we try to be more positive, we don’t tend to feel the same bond as through complaining.


This happened to me just yesterday… well actually I averted it. My friend was meeting me for coffee in downtown Salt Lake City. As she was driving, and did not want to pay for parking, she parked a few blocks away. When we finished the meeting we walked three blocks to her car.

Typically most of us may default to complaining about this, by saying…

“Why do they have to charge us to park downtown? This sucks….”

“I actually hate coming downtown because the parking, the traffic, and then I had to park a few blocks away and walk here.. it was raining and cold….”

Because I had to park three blocks away, I had to waste that time walking here…


But instead, I am very fortunate and blessed as my friend defaults to positive thinking. When we were walking to her car after finishing our coffee, she said:

“I’m glad I did not have to park closer. It gives me the opportunity to get in some walking in. Also, we have a little more time to talk!”


Which type of thinking would you default to? The more positive one my friend used, or the more negative one?


Common “Complaints” To Start the Day at Work

If that one seems easier to discern, we can think of the days we had to commute to the office. Often, the morning conversation starters would be something like,

“This traffic is horrible. I always have to leave 1 hour earlier than I want to to get here on time.”

“I thought I lived close enough to work to get here in 20 minutes, but it always takes 1 hour, and to top that, there’s always an accident on the beltway….”


Then we used to talk and bond with each other going into the abyss of complaints. Of course, we did not think of it as ‘complaining’ I guess. Just normal conversation.

But does this have to be normal?

How often do we hear the opposite,

“I was able to enjoy the sunrise while driving to work.”
“I could listen to some of my favorite songs or radio program while coming to work.”
“Guess what? The commute was so refreshing because I could listen to this book on tape that really pumps me up for my day ahead!”


We often run on autopilot, using the same behavior that leads to not-so-happy conversations. It happens so frequently that we take it for granted that it’s just the way life is. But does it have to be?


Once we start taking inventory of our mindset and changing our way of thinking, as I have really been cognizant about over the last year or more, and then come across a complainer, it really hampers my energy. But, then I realized in some cases, I had no choice but to be around the complainer. The complainer is not a bad person, but just gives a bad vibe. How can I be proactive to change this situation? Would it work?


Solution Focused Coaching Questions To Combat Chronic Complainers To the Rescue!


Let’s look at scenario #1 – Getting Stuck in Traffic

So, in comes the chronic complainer,

“That traffic was horrible, I hate getting stuck in traffic!”


A Solution Focused (SF) response/question could be: “What would you prefer instead?”


Take what they said and turn it on it’s head (the opposite)….


We can use a miracle question, “In an ideal world, what would you like the commute to be like?”


Or, how about asking,

“I hear your commute is about 45 mintues, is there anything that you can do in the car during your commute that will make it more enjoyable?”

“How can you think about the commute to feel better about it?”



Scenerio #2: The Person who Chronically Complains About other Colleagues

Using coaching questions to combat chronic complainers like this can be tricky because we also don’t really like to be part of office gossip, but again we can use SF coaching questions to turn the tide.


Let’s say a colleague is talking about a third party,

“Don is always dumping his work on me. I just don’t have anything to say. I don’t want to have a confrontation with him, so I just do it. Then afterword, I resent it.”


This is a lot to unpack and think about of course, this would really warrant a full coaching session, however, in a typical office scenario, typically these interactions happen at a quick pace for short bursts of time, maybe in the break room or during lunch (for those going to work), or maybe before 1:1 meetings in a virtual or remote office setting. We are often not in the position to have a long drawn-out conversation or a coaching interaction. So, we can select any type of question, as listed below.


Some Types of Solution Focused Coaching Questions

  1. Desired reality/preferred reality/Miracle question
  2. Small steps (doing or being)
  3. Past successes/good memories (bring it into the present)
  4. Exception question


Can you align any question types to the questions used above to combat complaining about rush hour traffic?


Aligning Solution Focused Coaching Questions To Combat Chronic Complainers – Office Relationships

Can you think of any questions to combat a colleague who complains about another colleague which align with the SF question types and examples given above?


Follow below for our ideas…

SF Question Type 1. Desired Reality/Preferred Realty (Miracle Question)

I know this has been going on for a long time. Though I can make a guess at what you would ideally want to happen, since I don’t want to put words in your mouth, what would you ideally want to see happen here?

How would you ideally like to see your interactions with Don go?


SF Question Type 2: Small Steps (doing or being)

If you had more time/felt comfortable with Don, we can expand the last two questions to something like this:

      • So, Don, can I ask you a few [more] questions? I’d like to know more about this…
      • When Don approaches you, how do you normally act or respond?
      • How would you ideally like to act or respond?
      • I hear you would ideally like to do X, but currently do Y…. how easy would it be to go from X to Y?
      • What’s the smallest thing you could do to move that needle from X to Y? (Doing question)
      • I can see this is causing you a lot of discomfort (use the word Don said to describe “a feeling”), what would you prefer to experience instead of discomfort? (Being question)
      • What’s the smallest way to move toward that sense (of relief)? (Being question)

(I intentionally avoided using the word “feeling” as that may not be liked by all in an office setting, but if they are comfortable with the word “feeling,” go ahead!)


SF Question Type 3: Past successes/good memories (bring it into the present)

Was there ever a time Don did not do this? If so, how can we think about how to see if we can get back to that time period? Or what from that time period can we bring into today to make it better for you?


SF Question Type 4: Exception question

This seems to happen a lot. Is there ever a time this doesn’t happen? (If yes…) What do you think makes the exceptions different than the norm? What can we learn from the exceptions?


(Keep in mind that true answers are not always going to focus on what the other person does or doesn’t do, but how we show up in those situations, what we do, what we think, etc.)


Can you identify the SF question types in this coaching demo?


While some of these questions may not always work in some office situations, they can be adapted into daily discussions, if not between colleagues, surely in one on ones (especially where it’s best to avoid advice-giving in preference. for critical thinking and problem solving).


If you need help to perfect your coaching approaches, why not join us for Solution Focused Coaching Meetups (hosted through Solutions Academy in Germany with US daytime meeting slots – select the meetings that say 16:00 CET which is 8am during summertime or 9am in the wintertime) or contact me for 1:1 coaching or ask about our Solution Focused Coaching Fundamentals class. Contact us for more information.



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