How to Combat Coworker Negativity

Coworkers at water coolerEveryone occasionally has a bad case of the Mondays, but that can also go away once you start joking around with coworkers. However, what happens when you’re surrounded by negativity, people who gossip and constantly complain? If positivity is lacking in the workplace, it can be a major mood drainer. Luckily, experts do have some suggestions for conquering situations with negative coworkers. These are just some possible solutions to a negativity problem, but feel free to experiment and add your own personalized touch.

Cheryl Palmer, a certified career coach and the owner of Call to Career, said when people are placed in a negative environment, it can start to rub off on them if they don’t consciously fight against it. However, she does have a couple of tips to help workers stay positive in a potentially negative work environment:

1)    Whenever possible, surround yourself with positive people. If any of your coworkers have a positive attitude, associate yourself with them. If there are no positive people at work, then make sure you surround yourself with positive people outside of work.
2)    Physically take yourself out of that environment whenever feasible. For example, you don’t have a choice when it comes to being around negative people when you are in the office, but you can use your lunch break to get out of the office and take a breather. Going for a brief walk during your lunch break can be rejuvenating.

Workers can even attempt to bring positivity to negative coworkers, especially if they appear to be more open to changing their ways. Here are two tips for helping coworkers see their jobs in a more positive light:

1)    Focus on the positive aspects of the job and/or organization. You can usually find something positive if you look for the positive.
2)    Another way to help coworkers is to focus the conversation on positive things outside of the workplace. Instead of talking about work all the time and how bad things are, you can talk with coworkers about their families and outside interests.

Tina Tessina, a psychotherapist and author of It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction, said in an email that overall negatively, especially in the workplace, can lead to worse issues.

“Negativity increases anxiety and despondency, which in turn increase stress,” Tessina said. “There are many studies that show how deleterious stress is to your health.  A negative outlook also ‘programs’ your subconscious to look for more negative things, and can easily make the situation seem gloomier than it really is.”

“When you’re complaining about what’s wrong, you’re not looking for ways to improve your situation or circumstances,” she added. “You wind up not being able to see the positive options that are there. A negative attitude can also increase the likelihood that your coworkers won’t get along. Once people start on the fault-finding path, they wind up also being negative toward each other, which creates an unpleasant, edgy atmosphere.”

She has a couple suggestions for being more positive in the workplace.

1)    Be the different voice—find something positive to say about whatever they’re complaining about; or else just ignore the negative conversation. You are not required to join in when the discussion is going downhill.
2)    No one responds well to being told what or how they should think or talk. What you can do is be the ‘Pollyanna’ in the group, searching for the positive possibilities and being a creative thinker. If you don’t follow the herd, the herd may wind up following you.

Tessina said people need to realize they have the power to take charge of their own thoughts and feelings, or they could get out of hand. This is one aspect to consider if you start giving in to negative talk at work or hear other coworkers complaining.

“Your thoughts affect your mood, and how you relate to yourself can either lift or dampen your spirits,” Tessina said. “Neuronal activity in the brain activates hormones which are synonymous with feelings. Constant self-criticism results in a ‘what’s the use’ attitude, which leads to depression. Continuous free-floating thoughts of impending doom lead to anxiety attacks. Negative self-talk creates stress.”

If you’re constantly stressed and prone to negativity, it might be a good idea to look at what types of relationships you’ve built with others, because chances are you’ve surrounded yourself with negativity and relationships that are prone to stress. It’s also beneficial to do some soul-searching and come to terms with what you want to do with your life, so that’s one less thing to become stressed about.

“What I do to help clients become aware of self-inflicted stress is first, to ask them to become aware of what they’re saying to themselves—if there is a constant stream of negativity, it will create stress—just as being followed around by someone who’s constantly carping on you would be stressful,” Tessina said.

April Ricchuito, a yoga/MST therapist, gave her suggestions in an email for combating negativity in the workplace:

1)    “Avoid taking anything personally. This was never about you; it’s about them. Set good, clear boundaries.”
2)    “Learn to meditate. Take three deep breaths and smile before responding, especially when you are irritated.”
3)    “Watch a few funny YouTube videos if you can. Share them with your coworkers.”
4)    “Look up a few office/desk yoga exercises you can do quickly and effortlessly to get grounded and relaxed.”
5)    “If you do choose to speak to coworkers about their outlooks, speak to them privately. Use ‘I’ statements to avoid sounding like you are attacking. Offer to help them: ‘Hey, I noticed you don’t seem as positive as usual. Is anything going on that I can help you with?’”

Denise Altman, the president of the Altman Initiative Group, Inc., said it’s important to find a job that you can look forward to and have passion for – work doesn’t have to be a place you drag yourself to. She also offers the following advice: “Start the day with a positive thought or mantra—post it on your screen saver or Post-it to your computer and think on that when others say negative things.”

Kathi Elster, an executive coach and business strategist at K Squared Enterprises, and coauthor of books like Working With You is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself From Emotional Traps At Work, gave a different suggestion to stay positive, even when you’re surrounded by negativity in the workplace. “Do whatever you need to in order to keep your positive mood in check. It might be talking to a friend that makes you laugh, keeping uplifting music on, surrounding yourself with the things that remind you how good life can be—photos, your favorite scents, humorous reminders, cartoons, jokes, etc.”

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  • Massey

    June 18th, 2012 at 12:16 AM

    Just hate those kind of people-Enter a new workplace and those already there will start telling you from day one how pathetic the job is and the boss is.I mean I just joined,can I make my own picture of this place and not listen to and agree to your problems,mister?!!

  • Cheryl campbell

    June 18th, 2012 at 4:52 AM

    I used to feed into all that junk at work. If there was a gossipy story going aorund about someone, you better believe that I was happy to spread it around unless it was about someone I was close to. But when this same thing happened to me, and there was a very untrue story being circulated about me, that’s when I realized that maybe it was time to grow up and stay out of that kind of business. Nobody benefits from being gosspied about, just in the same way that nobody who gossips really benefits either. It might feel kind of juicy at the time, but look at how it will affect you when it happens to you. That should be enough to make you back up and look at it from a different and more mature point of view

  • peg

    June 18th, 2012 at 3:41 PM

    It really is too bad that most of us don’t see the harm of being so negative at work until it is directed at us; that’s when most of us finally think to take a step back and eveluate how we have treated others and how that now is affecting how others view and treat us.

  • Lesa benjamin

    June 19th, 2012 at 4:48 AM

    Any work situation can be a like a hirnet’s nest of discontent if this is how the employers allow it to become. I think that there are so many times when those in charge could do something to halt this but they prefer to sit back and do nothing. Why? Too many of them don’t want to get their hands dirty, they prefer to try to let everyone sort it all out but this rarely works out too well. I think that in some of these situations someone needs to step up and say something and get the co workers on the smae page before someone gets too hurt in the process.

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