How to Handle a Pessimist at Work
By Courtney Clark
Have you ever had to share an office with a total Negative Nellie pessimist? Someone who always sees the worst in any situation?
A coworker with a constantly negative attitude can lead to a toxic culture and a lack of productivity. When one person at work is always complaining about something, that negative mindset can spread through the whole office. Rolling in the door at work on Monday morning can be tough enough! But it’s even tougher when you know you’ll be greeted by a colleague with a poor attitude.
Here’s what to say to protect yourself from your pessimistic colleague, and keep their bad attitude from ruining your workplace
“Woe is Me. Everything in My Life Is Horrible.”
Your Action Plan: This type of complaint usually comes from someone craving connection and compassion. They want a listening ear, and often get mad when you recommend actions they can take to change their situation. What’s extra-frustrating is that many of their complaints aren’t even work-related, and they waste your time wanting to gripe about their miseries without wanting any solutions.
In this situation, make it clear that you care (which hopefully will head off a major meltdown), but don’t engage any more than that, or you may find yourself trapped in a conversation loop. Try saying: “I understand you are frustrated, but I’m out of ideas to help you make the situation better. I can’t help you solve this problem, and I have to focus on my work right now.”
“Why Do We Need To Change? This is How We’ve Always Done It.”
Your Action Plan: Employees, especially those who have been there awhile, can be reluctant to face change. One of the most effective ways to make change less uncomfortable is to connect people to the purpose of the change. Start by pointing out to your colleague how the change is going to have a direct payoff for them.
If the pessimist employee is a long-timer, you could appeal to their pride by saying “you probably know better than anyone…” about the issue at hand. Try saying “the changes being proposed are going to help us reach the vision we’ve always had for this organization. You probably know better than anyone that we were founded with a goal of accomplishing X, Y, and Z. This leap is going to feel big, but it’s going to allow us the long-term stability we’ve been wanting, which I know is important to you.”
“That Won’t Work. This is All Wrong.”
Your Action Plan: Some colleagues just have a complaint about everything. Constant criticism can derail a staff meeting and demoralize the team. But if handled correctly, your pessimistic colleague’s complaints may just be an asset.
Research shows that workplace conflict can actually lead to better solutions. If you have a regular complainer on your team, try to channel their complaining into something helpful by giving them the job of foreseeing future complications on projects and ideas. If they feel like their complaints are being heard and taken seriously, they may be more likely to keep their critiques for the times when they’re asked.
But if not, try saying “I hear your concerns about solution X. It’s time to move on from brainstorming possible hurdles, and start talking about how we implement solutions to those problems. What are your suggestions for working through the potential problems?”
You may not be able to change your pessimist coworker’s attitude. But you can minimize the impact it has on you and everyone else. With a few strategic comments, you can minimize the negative impact of the office pessimist, and create a more positive atmosphere for everyone.
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