Welcome to Dear GovLoop, an occasional column where members of the GovLoop staff take your burning questions and give you advice on how to figure out answers to thorny questions and situations. We’ll be doling out advice on everything from how to advance in your government career to how to ease into telework to how to get along with a difficult coworker. Got a question you want us to answer? Shoot a note to [email protected] with your name, question, and any relevant information. All questions will be kept anonymous!
In today’s column, we’re answering this question: How do I deal with a negative coworker?
Dear GovLoop: I love my job. It’s seriously the best. My boss is great, the culture is wonderful, and my coworkers are all lovely people. Well, most of them. One of my coworkers who sits unfortunately close to me is a bit of a Negative Nancy. She whines and whines about just about everything, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her smile. Her negativity is starting to really drain my life force, and I don’t know how to cope with it. What can I do? — Signed, Done With The Negativity
Dear Done With The Negativity,
While the concept is nice, it’s impossible for us to control everything in our lives. We have no say in the weather, what comes on the evening news, and unfortunately, we can’t exactly control our coworkers.
It can be rough to be surrounded by negative energy and have to deal with gossip, constant complaints, and a bad attitude. But it’s important to not let these things get to you too much. Because while you may not be able to wave a wand and magically put a smile on your coworkers face, there are some techniques you can try out to bolster some positivity.
Don’t jump on the negative bandwagon. This is crucial to keep the negativity to a minimum. Once your coworker starts going on about their own problems with your boss, or how the dishes are never clean, it’s easy to jump right in with your own complaints. However, doing so will only spur on their negativity.
Instead, try to ignore the temptation of joining in on the negativity. Your silence won’t go unnoticed, and soon your coworker will get bored of complaining to no audience.
Change the conversation. When your peer is in the midst of a rant, try and steer the conversation somewhere else. Maybe bring up how the coffee has been really fresh lately, or how nice it is outside. Ignore the negativity, and bring up positive topics to attempt to refocus the Negative Nancy’s attention.
By not falling into the pessimistic trap, and further directing talking points to be lighter and more positive, you can show your coworker that not everything sucks, despite what they apparently seem to think.
Offer solutions. This can be tricky. Sometimes, people don’t really want to be told what to do about what they’re complaining about, they just want to vent. And while that’s totally valid, if their gloomy talk is becoming draining, it may be time to offer advice and possible solutions to whatever it is that’s annoying them.
If they’re having issues with their boss, hear them out. You may be able to provide practical insight. Maybe they’re starting to get sick with the change in weather, and you have a tried and true cold remedy, give it to them. Offering a hand when they need it might just be the show of compassion they need to stop complaining and see things in a new light.
Try and understand. Usually, at the root of all negativity, there’s an underlying cause. It could be an illness, a personal problem at home, or maybe work issue that they can’t relax about. While negative coworkers can be frustrating to deal with, they may just need a friend. Lashing out isn’t exactly a mature response to problems, but sometimes it’s all someone knows to do.
So, be a friend. Try and read the situation and see if there’s something deeper going on with your coworker. Their negativity could be a side effect of a bigger issue, and ignoring it could lead to even bigger problems.
If that doesn’t work, don’t feel bad about setting your own boundaries and not indulging a coworker or listening to them when they go into negative rant mode. A noncommittal “mmm-hmm,” silence, or a change of topic are all perfectly appropriate responses to somebody who won’t try to do anything but bring others into their negativity. Do what is emotionally healthy for you to keep your mood up.
For the most part, having a negative coworker is something that you can manage. It may seem difficult, or not worth it, but by making an attempt to be positive, setting your own boundaries, offering solutions, and being their friend, you might just discover that there’s more to the person in the desk next to you than a loud voice and a bad attitude.
Interested in having Dear GovLoop answer your workplace or government question? Drop us a line at [email protected].