Dear Etiquetteer: How do you deal with a co-worker who constantly berates and criticizes everyone? She is the epitome of "lipstick on a pig" so there would be room to retaliate but none of us feel it is the right thing to do. We want it to stop but we have no idea how to deal with it.
Sometimes Euphemism is insufficient to solve a problem. In such cases, a direct statement needs to be made, as gently but directly as possible, to state that there's a problem, and that a solution needs to be found. Here is just such a situation.
Etiquetteer once had to work with a Perpetual Complainer, a lady whose high standards could only be achieved by herself, and who always verbalized her dissatisfaction in the most uncomfortably specific ways. Finally having had enough, Etiquetteer said to her one day "Madam, tell me something good! You may say whatever you wish about this topic, but you must start with at least one good thing about it." And that exercise for her, while it didn't color her overall opinion, tempered her general unhappiness. It also proved to others that she was capable of seeing at least a little good in the matter at hand.
Etiquetteer encourages you to guide Madam Lypsticka into beginning her criticisms with some sort of kind observation, and to do so with candor. "Madam Lypsticka," you might say, "everyone knows that you prefer to express negative opinions, and we don't want to take that away from you. But we do think your opinions might carry more weight if you could balance your criticism with a couple good points about [Insert Name of Person or Topic Here]."
Converting Perpetual Complainers takes time, and Etiquetteer wishes you and your colleagues well as you begin this endeavor.