How to deal with Negativity in the Workplace

Posted by martin.parnell |
How to deal with Negativity in the Workplace

At some time during our careers, most of us will have come across a co-worker who just relishes having something to complain about. They exude negativity, whether it’s the job, the boss, the company, clients or a colleague. For some reason, they will delight in cornering you just so that they can have a good moan. 

You may be able to deal with this type of person by talking through their issues, offering support if they need help with their job, being a sounding board or offering advice. If you feel they have genuine concerns, you might suggest solutions e.g. they speak to their employer or the HR department.  You may be able to tell them you’d rather not get involved and try to move on to a more positive topic of conversation.  Sometimes, the co-worker just wants to complain to a friendly, listening ear; they don’t want your advice or assistance to address the situation.   

Other people will find it very difficult to deal with such a person. They may not know how to handle the situation and find it draining on their time and energy. Whatever happens, it is necessary to set boundaries with regard to time you spend with that person and topics of conversation. Listen, but set limits. Long term complaining saps your energy and positive outlook. Don’t allow that to happen. Walk away. Tell the co-worker you’d prefer to move on to more positive subjects. If that proves to be too difficult, avoidance is probably the easiest course of action. 

However, what if it’s an employee who is being persistently negative? 

In her article 7 Steps to Deal with a Negative Employee, on www.thebalance.com, (January 2017), Susan Heathfield includes these suggestions:

  • Inform the employee about the negative impact her negativity is having on coworkers and the department. Use specific examples that describe behaviours.
  • Avoid becoming defensive. Don’t take the employee’s negative words or attitude personally. They are not directed at you. For whatever reason, the employee is unhappy with his or her life or work.
  • Ask the employee if something negative is happening in his personal life that is affecting his workplace success. Knowing what is happening in the employee's life lets you offer sympathy or another appropriate expression of good or hopeful wishes. It can also help the employee see that you are interested in and concerned about them as a person.
  • Ask the employee what is causing his negativity at work. Listen to the employee's complaints and concerns until you’re certain that the employee feels heard out and listened to. Sometimes people repeat negative sentiments because they don’t feel as if you have really heard them. Make sure that you have activly listened. The employee will feel the difference.
  • Focus on creating solutions. Don’t focus on everything that is wrong and negative about the employee’s outlook or actions in your approach. This will only cause the employee to dig himself more deeply into his grievances. 
  • Focus on the positive aspects of her performance and the potential contributions the individual brings to the work setting, not the negativity. Help the employee build her self-image and capacity to contribute.
    Talk to her about what she has done well and what her co-workers and you appreciate about her performance. 
  • In the future, when interacting with the employee, try to compliment the individual any time you hear a positive statement or contribution rather than negativity from her. You'll want to reinforce, as much as possible, the positive interactions the employee has with other employees and the workplace.

These seven steps frequently work when you hit an employee's negativity head-on in your workplace. 

So, whether you are trying to deal with negativity from a co-worker or an employee, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are several ways to consider, in dealing with the situation.

If you are the person who is feeing negative, take a moment to really think about the underlying issues and how you can, for your own well-being take steps to resolve them and not be a drain on your colleagues.

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