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Dave Conrad: Complainers zap the life out of us

November 23, 2018

Dear Dave: Where I work, there is one co-worker who complains about everything. Nothing is ever right for him. If something new is discussed, he is negative and against it right away. Many of us are quite tired of hearing his complaints and slamming everything new that comes up. I have not seen one good idea come from him. He is the expert of criticism and pessimism. How can we cope with this? — P

Dear P: I know exactly what you are saying, and your observation of this person indicates that a bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. We have enough to do at work, and having to deal with someone who is so spiteful and against everything we are achieving and working on dampens our spirit and our desire to work hard and succeed.

I think every company has one or more of these “energy zappers” and they seem to crave applying their craft of cynicism. Most often — from my experience — these negativity experts rarely introduce anything that resembles a fresh, new idea. They just sharpen their sword so they can come to a meeting and slice up everything put on the meeting table. I guess it is much easier to slam an idea or some innovation than it is to come up with something brilliant and novel.

I blame managers for allowing these people to behave as they do day after day. If management doesn’t take a stance on how people conduct themselves in meetings or other venues for sharing ideas, then these negativity experts will have a wide-open playing field to categorically knock down any proposal or concept. No matter what comes up, it is always wrong for these “Debbie Downers.”

There are many reasons people exude negativity. It could be that they don’t like their jobs or they don’t like their company and co-workers. They may think their bosses are weak and, of course, they are always treated unfairly. Further, they tell anyone who will listen that the company is going down the tube and customers are ignorant and worthless. You can try avoiding them, but that is next to impossible because people need to get together and work on things, and these energy zappers may very well become part of your work team.

Coping and keeping your sanity

It’s a fact that co-worker negativity is contagious — if you need to work with negative people, there is a chance that you may become negative, too. This is a bad revelation and is one that should make all of us become aware of any negativity that is being spread around and see it for what it is — unsubstantiated criticism without evidence to back it up.

Now, I want to make it clear that there are occasions where we should be cynical, and even display some reasoned discontent, because something is proposed or something is happening that could be damaging and may cause severe problems and errors down the road. However, even if something appears to be threatening, we need to be careful and analytical and not jump to conclusions right away. I don’t think any idea — even the best ideas — can survive if the only reaction is a knee-jerk decision to immediately stomp on it.

One thing you can do is listen to your co-worker’s complaints until you are certain that they believe they have been heard. Now, comes the part negative people really hate; ask sincere and thoughtful questions about why they believe and feel the way they do. Ask them to clarify their statements and provide some examples or facts that support their negative views. Far too often negative people will generalize and provide “that’s a fact” statements to back-up their harsh remarks when there really is no basis for their views.

In that vein, rarely have knee-jerk negative people done any objective research to support a view; they just get busy and slam the proposals of others. Realize that they are doing this when you present something and you will find some peace of mind knowing they have no foundation for what they are saying. You can try to change them, but it almost takes a “Scrooge epiphany” before they will change their style. Try, as best you can, to limit your conversations and interactions with negative people.

Finally, the causes and catalysts of the negative employee’s long-term negativity are not a problem you need to solve. As I stated, you can purposely ignore them and, certainly, don’t let their rants impact your positive outlook. If the negativity is so strong and never-ending, talk to your own manager about the challenges you are experiencing in dealing with this negative person. Your manager may also be at a point where he or she knows they need to act on this critical matter.

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