It’s difficult to deal with negative co-workers. You can get roped into commiserating, even when you are not by nature negative, and even when you don’t agree with your negative co-worker’s complaints.
Given enough access and enough time, a negative person will chip away your force field of optimism. You will end up joining the dark side. It’s likely you have seen this kind of cancer spread by contact.
You have to protect your optimism. You also have to protect your relationships with your co-workers. How do you handle the negative complainer that sits one desk away from you?
Listen Patiently. Excessively Patient.
One of the best tactics for dealing with a negative co-worker is to say nothing. Just let them talk without saying a single word. The longer you allow them to talk without saying a word—positive or negative—the sooner your complaining co-worker will run out of steam.
It’s feeding the negativity with a conversation that validates the negativity and the complaining. Silence starves negativity. Engaging in a dialogue around complaints and negativity only sustains the negativity.
It’s more difficult to remain silent than you might imagine. It’s especially true when there is a kernel of truth to your complaining co-worker’s complaints. But remaining silent lets a lot of air out the balloon.
Understand Their Complaint
When your negative and complaining co-worker finally insists that you contribute something to the conversation, the only contribution you should make is to confirm your understanding of how they feel. You might say something like: “It sounds like your really unhappy about the compensation plan.” Or something like: “You seem like you are really frustrated by the changes we are going through here.”
You don’t argue with your co-worker, because doing so only causes them to continue their complaints and to entrench themselves deeper in their negativity. You make no judgment about their complaints or what they describe as the source of their negativity, real or imagined. You aren’t on their side, and you aren’t opposing them. Your simply making an observation about how they feel.
This lets more air out of the bubble. You are a co-worker, and maybe a friend, but you aren’t commiserating.
Redirect Them Towards Resolution
The best way to deal with negativity and complaining from co-workers is to redirect their energy (when it’s possible). After you have listened patiently and ensured that understood how they feel, you can say something like this: “What are your ideas about how you might be able to get a better result here? How can I help you with this?”
A negative person will complain about ten things all at once. You might have to say: “You seem unhappy with a lot of things. Is there one of these that you believe you need some help with first, and do you have any ideas about how you might go about making some of these things better?”
A truly negative person really doesn’t want your help. They want you to join them and wallow in their negativity. They want you with them so they can validate their negativity. Your support helps absolve them of their failures; their peers validate their arguments.
If you are dealing with someone that isn’t a truly negative person, your questions about how to make things better will encourage them to exercise their resourcefulness. If there is really an issue that can be resolved, you can encourage them to take action, and maybe you can help them.
If All Else Fails, Excuse Yourself from the Conversation
Maybe your co-worker is a force for darkness and pessimism. Maybe they’re not sincerely interested in trying to resolve their complaints. If the prior steps lead you to this conclusion, you can politely and professionally excuse yourself from the conversation.
You can say something like this: “I am so sorry to hear you are struggling with this. I find that getting bogged down in these kinds of discussions without working towards some resolution really ruins my attitude. I’m worthless for the rest of the day. But, if you have any ideas that might make things better, let me know how I can help. I’m here if you need me.” Then save yourself and get the Hell out of there.
How do you deal with negative, complaining people?
How do you handle someone that complains without alienating the relationship or joining them?
How do you protect your optimistic, abundant outlook from darkness and pessimism?
How can you professionally excuse yourself from a conversation with a negative person?