The Federal Coach: Dealing with Your Workplace Debbie Downer

When working in a team environment, how do you deal with a consistent dissenter who is vocal about what has not worked in the past? – Federal manager (GS-15) from the Department of Education

It can be hard to inspire a team when you’re faced with dissension from another team member. In fact, their negativity can draw out dissent from others and ultimately affect the team’s overall performance.

First, I suggest you find out if there is any validity to the feedback you’re receiving. While it can be easy to write-off dissension that is delivered at the wrong time, using the wrong words, your teammate may be offering you valuable feedback based on their experience on how things get done in your agency.

Set aside some time for a one-on-one with your dissenter to learn more about their concerns. You’re likely to get beyond the negative zingers to the real heart of the matter in a personal conversation. I suggest that you only listen, rather than respond, during the conversation so you can have time to thoughtfully consider the feedback.

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Lori Winterfeldt

This is a really interesting question. It would be interesting to hear your (or others) responses towards the flip side of the equation. What if it’s those ABOVE you who are “Debbie Downers”. There are times as a federal employee that you feel as if you’re swimming upstream.

Any suggestions for those on that side of the fence? Especially when you don’t feel heard.

Dale S. Brown

My suggestion to Lori Winterfelt’s comment is to be “militantly positive.” This isn’t my phrasing. It came from someone who wrote an article in the Post about being a camp counselor. That means being cheerful at all times, acting like you agree with all the negative points that are made, but then suggesting positive ideas. Examples;

“Your absolutely right, we’ve never done that here, and its worked at X agency and Y agency. I think that Mary at Y Department supports it, maybe we can talk about it. Do you see even a small possibility that we can make it work here?”

“Yes, it is really hard. And John Smith made some great points about why we can’t do it, I mean we probably can’t, you are right about that. I am wondering if we can do XXXX – can you help me out here just a little by looking with me for a small seed of opportunity?

Of course, outside of work, play with very positive people. Find at least one other person in your work place who is positive and start “positive plotting.”

Yes, I followed my own advice, friend me and we can talk about it.