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Getting Along with Negative Co-Workers

There’s no way around it: sometimes you will have co-workers who are negative, cynical and sarcastic, the type of people who bring the rest of the team down with their toxic personalities. While it would be nice to have a magic wand that would either brighten their attitudes or make them disappear, the reality is that you’ll often have no choice but to go on working with the individual. Management may feel that he or she is just too valuable to the team, too expensive to replace, or say that negativity is not grounds enough for removal. It might also not be practical to completely avoid the person, or to simply walk away from them when they’re being too much to handle, depending on work conditions. In all of these cases, it’s important to have coping mechanisms in place so that their moods don’t affect yours.

One helpful tactic is to set clear boundaries. This can be done in a few ways. The first is by making your work area just that: a work area. If your negative co-worker tries to engage you in conversation that you know will distract you for the rest of the day, point to all the things you need to get done. You can politely let them know that you have work to do, and even promise to talk with them later–if you can finish all your work in time. Saying that you’ll still talk to them, albeit at a later point, should gain you a little breathing space without offending them. By the time you do finish, there’s a good chance they’ll have found someone else to dump on, or have moved on from the irritation they wanted to unload on you.

Another strategy to employ when dealing with a co-worker who is constantly coming to you with negativity is deflection. When they start telling you about a problem at work, you can remind them that the company’s HR representative would be the perfect person to handle the situation. Send them along to a person who is better qualified to help them, and avoid the long rant. In general, as soon as a chronically negative person is offered practical advice they’ll leave you alone, as they really want to talk to someone who will allow them to wallow.

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The important thing, when using this technique is to remember that it’s not your job to fix the person or the situation. Unless you actually are the person who would deal with the kind of issue they’re bringing up, say, you are the company HR representative, you are not responsible to correct the issue. Instead, your job is to focus on removing yourself from the situation so that you can continue to do your real work in an environment that doesn’t sap your energy.

A final deflection mechanism is to have a few good stories on hand. As soon as the negative co-worker begins to complain or tell you about the latest injustice done to them, smile and remark on how this reminds you of something else and launch into a story. In most cases the other person will quickly wrap up the conversation at this point, as you’ve taken away the joy of complaining from them. Most people who are frequently negative want to have the spotlight, and once robbed of it, will leave to find it elsewhere.

Of course, these tactics won’t work every time and with all people. It may be necessary to get higher-ups involved or to wait it out. And in some situations, the person is bringing up valid issues that need to be addressed. However, if the behavior is constant and draining, try some of these suggestions and you may find your co-worker will either change how they interact with you, or leave you in peace for a while. It’s worth a try.

Chana Perton
Chana Perton
Chana Perton is a contributing writer and investigative journalist for CBT News.

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