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How to Deal With a Negative Coworker: Negativity Matters

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Thomas Barwick/ Iconica/ Getty Images

Some people exude negativity. They don’t like their jobs or they don’t like their company. Their bosses are always jerks and they are always treated unfairly. The company is always going down the tube and customers are worthless. You know these negative Neds and Nellies – every organization has some – and you can best address their impact on you via avoidance.

On the other hand, sometimes normally positive people are negative. Some of the time, too, their reasons for negativity are legitimate. You will take a completely different tack with these occasionally negative people. We’ll deal with both of these varieties of negativity from people.

Tips for Dealing With Occasional Negativity

  • Listen to the employee or coworker’s complaints until you are certain that they feel heard out and listened to. Sometimes people repeat negative sentiments over and over because they don’t feel like you have really listened to them. Ask questions. Clarify their statements. Make sure you have actively listened.


  • Decide if you believe the employee or coworker has legitimate reasons for their negativity. If you decide affirmatively, ask if they’d like your help to solve the problem. If they ask for help, provide advice or ideas for how the coworker can address the reason for their negativity.

    Short term advice that points a person in a positive direction is welcome. But, your role is not to provide therapy or counseling. Nor, is your role to provide comprehensive career advice or long term recommendations. Point the coworker to helpful books, seminars, or the Human Resources Department to solve their problem. Know your limits when advising coworkers.


  • Sometimes, the coworker just wants to complain to a friendly, listening ear; they don’t want your advice or assistance to address the situation. Listen, but set limits so the coworker does not overstay or over-talk his or her welcome. Long term complaining saps your energy and positive outlook. Don’t allow that to happen. Walk away. Tell the coworker you’d prefer to move on to more positive subjects.


  • If you listen to the coworker’s negativity, and decide the concerns are not legitimate, practice personal courage and tell them what you think. Tell the coworker you care about their concern and about their happiness at work, but you disagree with their assessment of the situation.

    Back gracefully out of additional conversations. The coworker will attempt to appeal to your sympathetic nature, but if you believe the negativity is unwarranted, don’t spend your time listening or helping the coworker to address the negative feelings. You will only encourage long term and growing negative feelings and, potentially, behavior. You will set yourself up as a negativity magnet. Constant negative interactions will eventually permeate your interaction with your workplace.

Tips for Dealing With Negative Coworkers

Deal with genuinely negative people by spending as little time with them as possible. Just as you set limits with the coworkers whose negativity you believe is baseless or unwarranted, you need to set limits with genuinely negative people.

Causes of their long term negativity are not your concern. Every negative person has a story. Don’t impact your positive outlook by listening to the stories, or reviewing the history and the background about the grievances purported to cause the negativity. You reinforce the negativity; negativity is a choice. Negativity mongers need a new job, a new company, a new career, a new outlook, or counseling. They don’t need you.

Deal with negative coworkers in these ways.

  • Avoid spending time with a negative coworker.


  • If you are forced, through your role in the company, to work with a negative person, set limits. Do not allow yourself to be drawn into negative discussions. Tell the negative coworker, you prefer to think about your job positively. Avoid providing a sympathetic audience for the negativity.


  • Suggest the negative person seek assistance from human resources or their supervisor.


  • If all else fails, talk to your own supervisor or human resources staff about the challenges you are experiencing in dealing with the negative person. Your supervisor may have ideas, may be willing to address the negativity, and may address the issue with the negative person’s supervisor. Persistent negativity, that impacts coworkers’ work is a work behavior that may require disciplinary action.


  • If negativity among employees in your company is persistent, if the issues that warrant negativity are left unaddressed, and the negativity affects your ability to professionally perform your work, you may want to consider moving on. Your current culture will not support your desired work environment. And, if no one is working to improve a work culture that enables negativity, don’t expect the culture to change any time soon.
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