Don’t Make Me Have to Stop This Car!

Looking through an old album this week, I enjoyed photos of our annual summer trips to Virginia for my dad’s family reunion. The drive from Louisiana was long and hot. Excited to see our cousins again, my siblings and I were fairly cooperative on the way there. The return trip was a different story. About two hours away from home all four kids were whining, complaining and tattling on each other. Do you remember drawing that imaginary line down the center of the back seat and daring your siblings to cross that line?

Our parents managed our negative behavior very differently. My mother sighed, cajoled and pleaded with us to behave. My father took another approach. His hands never left the steering wheel as he made eye contact with us in the rear-view mirror and spoke one simple sentence in a calm voice.

“Don’t make me have to stop this car.”

If you’re having flashbacks of being in that car, you remember how that simple phrase resulted in an instant attitude adjustment on your part! With our world turned upside down for the past two years, our lives can be as stressful as a long, hot road trip. People are anxious, frustrated, tired and worn out. Days are long. Patience is short. Adding to the stress in our workplace or at home, there’s usually at least one whiner or complainer “in the car” with us.

You know who they are. They whine and complain about everything. Nothing is ever their fault – or their responsibility. They enjoy spreading negativity and making others miserable. According to whiners, life isn’t fair. Complainers continue to bring up past issues, even if they’ve been resolved. The goal of both is to get you emotionally involved so you’ll reward them by giving in or giving up, asking less of them and/or agreeing with them. Just like kids, they know exactly what buttons to push “to get you worked up.” When that happens, you lose control of your ability to respond in a rational and logical manner. And they win. Again.

While you can’t change a whiner or complainer, you can choose how to respond to their problem behavior. Here are some options. Feel free to use one… or all.

  • Don’t allow them to pull you back into the past.
  • Focus on the present – and the future.
  • Remove emotion from the situation.
  • Take a direct, calm and firm approach.
  • Don’t “catch” their negativity, anger or frustration.
  • Deal objectively with the facts.
  • Maintain self-control.
  • Take a deep breath… or two.

On that trip my dad did not reward our negative behavior. Instead, he held us accountable. It was not his job to keep us happy. His job was to get us home safely. Our job was to keep distractions to a minimum so he could do his job. All of us have whiners and complainers in our lives. The next time they’re “in the car” with you, these tips will keep YOU in the driver’s seat!



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