Work can be stressful in and of itself sometimes—commuting, deadlines, computer malfunctions, office gossip and politics—and then, you see them approaching you, set on dumping their latest personal hardships onto your shoulders. This person (the Major Downer as I like to call them) is a co-worker who seems to have a bad attitude about everything – work and life in general – who thinks the world is against them, and whose mission it is to bring everyone around them down, too. These characters are a drain on productivity and engagement and can bring the whole team down. I’ve already talked about how stress is bad for your health, so for the sake of your sanity and your health, here are some strategies for dealing with your workplace’s MD (Major Downer):
- Disengage them.
Don’t be rude—it’s still important to remain civil and professional, but beyond the pleasantries—“Good morning”—don’t engage them in conversation, as any conversation will likely end up turning to their personal problems and how none of it is their fault. If they try to engage you in conversation, kindly remind them you’ve got a lot on your plate and should really get back to work, and then do so, whether the MD continues talking or not. They’ll get the point.
- Compliment them.
Deep down, someone with such a negative attitude may be very insecure and/or just looking for attention. Point out a recent accomplishment, such as a project completed that you know they worked hard on, and tell them what a good job they did. If they respond with self-deprecating remarks, at least you know you tried.
- Set an example.
Do your best not to let their toxic mood infect your own. Imagine a wall between you and the Downer, and make it a color that represents strength to you. None of their negative energy can penetrate your wall. Then set an example by remaining positive and steering the conversation in a more uplifting direction.
- Hand them the reins.
One of the most effective ways of dealing with a negative personality is to give them responsibility. When they vent to you about their latest problem, say “What steps can you take to resolve this issue?” or “What are you doing about it?” Many times a Downer has a victim mentality and feels out of control. Encouraging them to look at what they can do to better a situation will nudge them in the right direction.
Totally turning around a negative person may not be possible, but you can at least make it clear that you won’t be the one who lets them dump all of their negativity onto you, and you can set an example that just maybe they one day will try to emulate. Showing a Major Downer that there is a different way to live than always being the victim may be enough to shine some light into their tunnel and at least make for a less stressful work environment.