Dear style & substance,
I work with a woman who has a pretty good job and a pretty good life. Whenever something good happens to anyone (herself included), she always has to say something like, “well that’s great, BUT….”, with a negative spin on it. I am at the breaking point, as it really puts a damper on anything good. I guess I need a new way to deal with her chronic negativity without snapping or, even worse, joining in!
We have to applaud you for actually caring about this, as many people would start ignoring her, talking about her behind her back or possibly snap at her. We’d like to start our advice with a quick exercise for you to help explore options, hers and yours.
• Does she come from a negative background?
• Does she have low self-confidence? Or little confidence in people around her?
•Has she recently been hurt deeply by someone she trusted?
•Do others join in with her negativity? If so, does this add to her sense of belonging?
•Listen closely, does your co-worker give subtle clues to her motivations?
If this gives you any insight, you may at least understand where it might be coming from. The longer she has responded that way…the harder it may be to point her in a new, optimistic direction. In changing our own or someone else’s behavior, knowing something about the motivation of the negative behavior helps in the redirection.
It is our opinion that the tone and expectation of a workplace is to encourage people to leave their personal circumstances and emotions out of the work of the day. Even the longest suffering member of your organization will respond positively to a genuine compliment and it could be the counter-action that could begin to turn her pervasive attitude in a positive direction. A genuine compliment can and should be focused and meaningful. Paying a compliment should reflect a moment you experienced first-hand. Let your negative co-worker know about an act you truly appreciated. You may not change this person’s outlook; however, you will change your own – YOU will not be dwelling in the negative. Someday, SHE may even join you in happiness. Even when you exhibit the most professional demeanor, not everyone around you will rise to your level. Unfortunately, the longer we work with people, the more personal it can become without good supervision and modeling. The best course of action is to be warm and approachable while always maintaining a professional attitude.