How to Handle the Cranky, Miserable People Around You

Well, it’s here. After much build-up and prep, our six-month overseas adventure officially began just over a week ago when our plane touched down in Paris.

And, it turns out, my first life lesson based on this little adventure followed that very morning. We’d gone to a store to stock up on some known culinary entities to ease us gently into our new world of butter, cream and glorious carbs.

desserts meBut we didn’t just go to any store. We went to the Monoprix.

For those of us who love our big boxed department stores, the Monoprix is a welcome place. It’s like the Target of France. And it’s beloved by many.

Because as beautiful as the food is in those little, specific, unique shops Parisians seem to love so much…


…sometimes it’s just easier to do it the way many of us are a bit more used to.

frozenNow, despite its grandeur, the store and its products are still – as the French would say – petit compared to what we’re used to.

As I commented to Hubbie about the teensie size of a package of toilet paper, the guy next to me – an American – said, “it’s all like that. Small and overpriced. Get out now.”

I laughed at first. “Not a fan of Paris?”

He didn’t. “Not at all. I hate it. And I’ve been here for 30 years.”

He then began telling me how miserable his life was, and why he was stuck in it. He tried to convince me that everyone was out to get him, including the cashier at that very store.

He then asked me how long I’d be in Paris, and when I responded his eyes grew wide.

“Three months?!” he said, “Uh-oh…”

And just as he was about to inevitably tell me how horrible my life was about to become, I decided I’d had enough.

“Yes, three months, and I’m pretty excited about it,” I said with a smile, a firm tone, and a finger lightly pointed his way, “so don’t bring me down. I mean it.”

And then, still smiling, I walked away.

We all have people in our lives who aren’t exactly – shall we say – optimistic. Many can be pretty cranky, miserable, irritable…all the time.

Chances are you know who I’m talking about:

  • The co-worker who always stops at your desk to tell you how unappreciated he is by his boss, his colleagues, and everyone else in the entire world
  • The sister who calls your cell phone relentlessly so she can tell you all about the ongoing, tedious feud with her neighbor
  • The friend who arrives at your lunch with a heavy sigh as she launches into her gossipy tirade about all of your other, mutual friends

The dangerous thing is that many of them like a whole lot of company with their misery. So they target other people to join them. People like you.

Even when you don’t do it, when you sit there quietly, they drain your energy. They create a cloud that surrounds you for hours.

The good news? There’s something you can do about it.

You can walk away.

No, really. Whether literally or metaphorically, you can extract yourself from these situations.

You can set boundaries with these folks. You can see them less. You can tell them you can’t talk on the phone at your usual time anymore. You can tell them you really need to focus on your work, your kids, your life right now, that you need to stay positive.

Yes, I know. There are some people – family members and co-workers in the office next door and longtime friends who are part of a bigger circle – that you can’t just walk away from. It just isn’t that easy.

I didn’t say it was easy. And I didn’t say it would bring on the warm and fuzzy for everyone involved.

But this is your life we’re talking about. And you can do something to help yourself. You can ease yourself away from these cloud-makers. You can pay attention to who they are. You can recognize who you allow yourself to join.

If you don’t want to be cranky and miserable too, then make the choice to walk away. You can do it gently. You can do it with a smile. But you must do it firmly.

Of course, these people may not understand. They might be hurt. They’ll probably talk all about you to the next guy they encounter.

But at least that guy won’t be you.

That’s’ why I walked away from the American.

Sure, in the end I might hate Paris as much as he does, but I’m not about to let him decide that for me. And I’m not going to bother talking to him next time I’m in the glorious Monoprix…

…which, by the way, will probably be soon. Because, as much as we love it, stuff from this beloved store won’t last forever.


(Note: actual photo from our bathroom…perhaps our Monoprix loyalty is a bit over the top?)

This week…

Think about the constantly miserable people in your life. Recognize how you allow yourself to be impacted by them…perhaps how you join them.

Then make a decision to walk away, even if you begin with a baby step.

And know how good it feels to have that cloud around you disappear.

Now, go do good…and do it well.



18 thoughts on “How to Handle the Cranky, Miserable People Around You

  1. Laura Alpert says:

    You’re absolutely right. Love this! And by the way…anyone who resides in a country that they supposedly hate for 30 years is a chronic complainer, gets some sort of charge out of being miserable, or both! How sad for him.

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Completely right on, Laura – I actually challenged him around his whole “stuck in this miserable life” sentiment and he just insisted he’s a big victim of it all. Then I realized I was wasting my breath…and my valuable Monoprix time…

    2. Phillippe LaVere says:

      I find it somewhat ironic that your piece on “How to Handle the Cranky, Miserable People Around You” (yes, I’ve been called that) the same day that John Backman’s piece, “For a Friend Who, Like Me, Has Thought About Suicide” (this also applies to me) appeared. if you haven’t read it, I recommend it. These two pieces don’t exactly disagree. In fact, I think that for the most part the two pieces are in agreement. At the same time each post points pout the flaws in the other post. Let me give you an example:

      For several years I had an Admin Assistant position that sometimes required me to go to the building’s basement. In that area was the mail room, the print office and a receiving area that also had supplies for the other agencies that shared the building. That part had an uncovered “window” usually presided over by a guy named Allen.

      Allen was one of those people who liked to talk a lot, and came across as lonely and needy (I’ve also been called that), and sometimes it was difficult to get away, to end the conversation before it took up too much time.

      One day I had mentioned that the local PBS station had started airing old movies on Saturday night. H was all excited about this. We became fairly friendly. Eventually, he invited me over to his house. I already knew that he had overcome a major drug habit that took years from his life. I had gotten so bad, that he had even resorted to petty crime, holding up stores in other cities to support his habit. But he had been clean and sober for years. He also made it very clear that as another male, he wasn’t “coming on” to me. He just thought it might be fun to watch some old movies together.

      Twp things made me nervous about this: 1-He had previously mentioned that he had a gun collection, and I have a deep hatred of guns no matter what type, what they are for, or who has them. 2-I could imagine the same problem leaving that I had in simply ending our conversations to go back to work. I never said “no”, I just kept putting it off. Then I noticed he wasn’t at the window for a few days. I thought he had taken some vacation time, since he had accrued a lot.

      The following week, I was in the cafeteria, and Allan’s boss was in line behind me.
      Suddenly he said “I don’t know if you heard what happened to Allan…”

      Apparently, he had asked his neighbors to take care of his pized dog for awhile. The he went to a supermarket, parked his car, and shot himself with one of his guns.

      I didn’t feel guilty, exactly, but I couldn’t help but wonder if that would have happened if I had gone over for dinner, just once.

      So on one hand, he (or I ) could definitely be described as one of the Cranky, Miserable People. On the other hand, perhaps I could have been there for him. Since that time, I’ve never looked at a needy, desparate, lonely person (including myself) the same way again.

      1. Deirdre Maloney says:

        Thank you for this story, and for this example that shows that these situations and decisions aren’t always so easy. When it’s a stranger, as in the case I cited, it’s certainly more clear-cut. When it’s someone you know in a different and more personal context, it’s clearly harder to know the best way to proceed…I appreciate your courage in sharing this comment.

      2. reader2 says:

        Working in a basement for how many years? How many years did Allan survive without exposure to direct sunlight?

  2. Jessica says:

    That was so needed! I have an “industry friend” that I realize is toxic and as much as I pull away, she finds a way to push her way back in. Very draining!

  3. Amy Thoe says:

    Yes – good advice. I think the really tricky part is when you manage “negative nellies” and they think complaining about their workday is part of their job description. I’m slowly providing them less positive reinforcement for their tirades but it’s hard. Sometimes I just can’t take it… but I can’t really walk away (they’ve literally cornered me in my own office.) Often I turn the conversation to a more positive one: “Well – that’s just part of the job – always exciting, isn’t it?” Or “Good thing we’re not bored here! That would be WAY worse!” If you have any other managerial advice, I’d be happy to have it!
    And be sure to have PLENTY of croissants for me!

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Tough one, Amy – I’ve had a few of those in my past, too…I think you’re completely on the right track by not giving them positive reinforcement – or even any attention, really – for their complaints. It really takes the proverbial air out of someone’s tires when you just change the conversation every time they go negative. It’s no fun for them anymore. I also find that giving feedback to them as a manager, that they’re negative attitude (whether intentional or not) is not helping them be seen as a leader in their role, can help those who are more self-aware. Sometimes it can even be seen as a performance issue that you discuss as their supervisor – a clarification that this part of the day is not a part of their role. They might still complaint to others (probably will) but, again, at least it won’t be to you.

  4. Oh, dear Deirdre, how I wish I could join you in thinking how simple it is to walk away from those who drain away our positive energy like a vampire takes to blood. But, what does one do when that person is your 83-year-old mother who lives alone in your 9-room Victorian family home (because she refuses to down-scale and move), hundreds of miles away and would love to share with you the miseries of her life everyday for at least an hour if she could? I love my Mom and know that there are more days behind her than in front of her, but I am afraid that if I don’t take her calls, that include blow-by-blow details of her miserable encounters with her inconsiderate doctor, pharmacist, gardener, auto mechanic, etc that one day she will be gone and I will regret it. No easy answer.

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Completely hear you, Felicia…and it’s definitely not easy. Especially when it’s family or super close friends. I deal with hit in a few different ways with others too and wonder about regret. In the end I’ve decided just how much I can take, and then I set boundaries for the rest of it. I know by doing so I am having a more authentic relationship and I’m less likely to get snippy or resentful…both of which are emotions that could also lead to a whole lot of regret later on…tough stuff!!

  5. Tracie says:


    I have found it especially helpful with close friends and family to simply “name it”. I have found myself telling people that I am trying to cultivate positivity in my life and I choose not to engage in conversation that revolve around drama, negativity, brooding, complaining, or the like. Admittedly, some people were uncomfortable with such direct communication, but it has made a huge difference in my life and in the interactions I have with those who matter most. I have also noticed that those I have shared my thoughts with now seem to be cultivating more positivity in their lives as well. Turned out to be a win-win situation. Thanks for sharing and be well…


    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Wow Tracie, that is such great advice…no, I’m sure it’s not always comfortable, but it makes sure you get the message across, and that you’re taking a stand for what you need and deserve. Congrats on your courage!

  6. So true, so true, Deirdre!

    We have a code-name in our family for people like that – blustery. They always have to “bluster” about something. For some reason, it enhances their view of themselves. They have to “prove” to the rest of the world that they are conquering all the ‘evil forces’.

    When I find myself being dragged into those conversations, I find myself having to catch myself to NOT join in and do the “Well, that might have happened to you, but just wait till you hear what happened to ME” type of “competition”. Just DON’T do it! I get furious at myself when I feel myself getting sucked in by blusterers.

    Of course, just being able to recognize them is a step in the right direction. The next is to try to avoid being in their sphere of influence (appropriately). The last is to try to contain those you can’t avoid (You CAN avoid the guy in Monoprix; you can NOT avoid your mother!).

    We can’t avoid them altogether, but you are absolutely right about redirecting them, and not letting them invade your space. You may need to let you octogenarian mother “vent”, but you don’t need to validate her complaints…just listening is probably what she really needs, and if she doesn’t have anything to complain about, she may feel that she really doesn’t have anything to say…and “bad things” will keep you on the phone because you’ll be concerned. With people like that (and I have a cantankerous 87-year-old Uncle for whom I am the sole surviving relative), people you can’t push out of your life like the Monoprix guy, give them the room to vent. HOWEVER, don’t take the bait…don’t add fuel to the fire…and over time, they MAY learn that you’ll stay on the phone anyway…even if they’re NOT convincing you that their life is misery.

    So, I try to limit the blusterers to those who really MUST be in my life (and thankfully, they are few). Just cutting out superfluous blusterers makes my days immensely better! Then, I actually have the energy to deal with those whom I can NOT avoid, and I find that patience and understanding (not commiseration, but redirection) SOMETIMES helps even them, which of course, also benefits me!

    Happy shopping!

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      I love the way you divide this into two piece, Sandy…and yes, avoiding the ones you can gives up lots of energy to “contain” (great word!) the ones you can’t completely. Thanks for the great comment 🙂

  7. Patty says:

    Thank you Deirdre for the wake up call. Seems as if there is always someone negative and complaining and when I become aware of it, it try to limit the time so I can take care of myself. Changing the subject tactfully is also a good alternative.

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Limiting time is another great way to do it…and it’s tactful. Eventually you can continue limiting down to nothing if needed, but it can hurt less. The problem, of course, is when people don’t respect your limits. That’s when the proverbial Band-Aid probably needs to come off a bit more quickly!

  8. Scott says:

    “Now, go do good… and do it well.”

    I’m trying to recognize the juxtaposition of that with a smile that walks away.

    Chronic cranky is tiresome, at times loathsome. As we press into the messiness of life with others, we uncover hidden hurts, abandonment, failure, rejection. Those of us who want to live life well – maybe to the fullest, should take time to grab a cup of joe with that cranky Joe, and look into his eyes, hear with both our ears, and show a level of compassion so often missed in today’s self focused fantasy. (maybe not you Deirdre, with a strange man in a store, but you get my vibe…)

    What the world needs now is love, sweet love… maybe that’s just an old tune. But, maybe it’s time we go do good, and do it well by taking time with a stranger in our path that seems to be cranking that ill out all their pores. Do we leave it to the professionals? I think not. Ask somebody how they are with sincerity. Listen to their story if they have one. Take time for a fellow in need. Maybe that’s the way the world will turn brighter and less cranky. Maybe not. When I do that, it somehow makes my day seem more meaningful, even though the story’s make me sad. Sorry, just one man’s lunch hour perspective. Now I need to go and do good, by serving the “least” of my brothers…

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Hi Scott – really do appreciate your comment and hear where you’re coming from. At the same time, I can’t agree on this particular incident from the story. I actually did try to talk and smile a bit with the guy and he just wasn’t hearing it. He really did want to be miserable about this country I’m in and – it seemed – to have me feel the same. While there are times that can certainly be about compassion, I just think there are others when it has to be about being compassionate to yourself. I meant what I said to him…I just didn’t want him bringing me down on such a monumental day…and I that made sense for me at the moment. Thanks again, though…I always appreciate thoughtful responses!

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