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How to Deal With Negative People in the Workplace

Negative people obstruct productivity in the workplace in a handful of ways. Their pessimism serves as a buzzkill when, every time you suggest an idea or improvement, they say, "No, that will never work." Complaining and gossiping at the office undermines morale, which also undermines productivity. If you can't get away from these folks, you need reasonable strategies to deal with them.

Negative people obstruct productivity in the workplace in a handful of ways. Their pessimism serves as a buzzkill when, every time you suggest an idea or improvement, they say, “No, that will never work.” Complaining and gossiping at the office undermines morale, which also undermines productivity. If you can’t get away from these folks, you need reasonable strategies to deal with them.

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The Buzzkills

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Some people don’t want to try anything new, or are simply convinced that anything different won’t work. They are the worst to have in any brainstorming session, and their presence tends to squash creativity. Over time, other people learn not to suggest anything around these negative types, and progress stagnates.

Donna Flagg at Psychology Today suggests dealing with the chronic, “No, that will never work” by asking questions. Questions may be substantive, for example, “I think this is worth trying because the evidence so far suggests it will. On what are you basing your opinion that it won’t work?”

Flagg suggests directing confronting the negativity with a question. “Why do always say ‘no’ to everything?” or “Why do you shut down suggestions?” Point out that their negativity prevents others from productively sharing good ideas and improving the workplace.

My personal favorite buzzkill from others is, “But we’ve always done it this way.” Obviously, if the old way worked well, we wouldn’t be taking the time to discuss changing it.

Gossip

Remember playing telephone as a kid? The larger the group of children, the funnier the results. All the kids sit in a circle, and one whispers a message in the next one’s ear. The message gets sent around the circle, and the last child tells the group. The way the message changed from the original is often hilarious.

It’s not so hilarious when the message is something about a co-worker. Because of the natural dynamic for information to morph as it gets passed around from person to person, gossip is seldom based in fact. And gossip is an extremely negative influence in the workplace.

Questioning the information is one way of productively responding to gossip. A simple, “How do you know that?” may reveal the weakness of the source.

Another tactic is to feign helplessness. “Gosh, I don’t know anything about that,” and return to your work.

Whatever you do, don’t get sucked into the gossip, even if you are trying to defend the subject of the gossip. Arguing about the “facts” will only suck your energy and pull you into an argument. You may want to keep it general, for example, “I don’t know that is true,” and return to your work.

Negativity in the workplace creates a blanket that covers everybody. It impedes creativity and productivity. Respond to negativity with reasonable questions, don’t participate in gossip, and keep your focus on your work to stay positive.

Tell Us What You Think

How do you respond to office gossip? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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Let the cat out the bag and spill the beans on the office gossip at your job on http://click2scream.com/ . Posts are 100% anonymous, so you can’t look like the jealous co-worker, or annoying whistle-blower.

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