We all have colleagues we can’t stand—the one who chews louder than humanly possible (or so you thought, until you met him), the one who tries to steal the spotlight all the time, the one who makes excuse after excuse and is really just a lazy bum, and [fill in annoying characteristic of a fellow employee here]. But perhaps the most dangerous of all? The person who complains about everything.
Even if you do love your job (which is great!), there are going to be times when you question it or become frustrated—that’s just the name of the game. You certainly don’t need anyone else making it worse. Emotions are contagious, so being around someone who’s always complaining or naysaying everything can rub off on you. And that’s not good news.
Unfortunately, you can’t change people, so it’s up to you to control your own outlook, especially when you have to spend time around those who are allergic to happiness. So, without further ado, here are three ways to deal with a co-worker who hates everything so that you can maintain a positive attitude (at least most of the time):
1. Practice Compassion
It can be tempting to label someone as a lost cause and tell her to “talk to hand cause the face don’t give a damn.” But this shouldn’t necessarily be your first plan of action.
“A more practical approach to dealing with [her] is to start by understanding the reasons for [her] negativity,” says Raj Raghunathan, PhD, Professor of Marketing at the McCombs School of Business. “In brief, almost all negativity has its roots in one of three deep-seated fears: the fear of being disrespected by others, the fear of not being loved by others, and the fear that ‘bad things’ are going to happen. These fears feed off each other to fuel the belief that ‘the world is a dangerous place and people are generally mean.’”
Your team member could be acting the way she is for a myriad of reasons. Perhaps she’s been struggling with the interactions between her and her boss. Or, maybe she feels like she’s drowning in work and putting in way too many hours. It could also be something totally unrelated to the office. You never really know, but Raghunathan believes that her “negativity is a thinly disguised cry for help.”
It’s not your responsibility to fix her problems, but having compassion can go a long way. “As the negative person absorbs positivity from your presence, [she] will like himself better, and this hopefully will lead to a virtuous cycle of greater trust in others and optimism about the future.” How does this help you, you ask? Well, it can help you eliminate that gloomy presence in your life (hopefully).
2. Block Him or Her Out
Sometimes lending an ear just isn’t going to help—either because the person is so caught up in what is bothering him or because, well, it’s just the way he is.
“Sadly, some people are so entrenched in seeing the negative side of things that they leave zero room for positive things to grow,” says Marc Chernoff, co-founder of Marc and Angel Hack Life and co-author of 1,000+ Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently. “Their negative attitudes and opinions are venomous and contagious.” And Angel believes you should do your best to leave these types of people behind in order to subtract the bad and add the good.
Now, unfortunately, if you work with someone like this, you can’t just pretend he doesn’t exist. If you’re lucky, you may not have to interact with him too much in order for you both to successfully complete your assignments. But if you’re not so lucky, there’s still a way to utilize this advice by ignoring him when what he’s saying or doing isn’t necessary.
Here’s how: Not only should you filter what you say to others, but what is said to you, too. Create a metaphorical “positivity sieve” for your mind, and only let good stuff in. To do this, you’ll need to learn how to identify destructive comments or behavior (e.g., incessant eye rolling).
For example, if he says something like, “Wow, Laura always wears the ugliest pants,” you can probably disregard it. Do Laura’s pants have any impact on you, your work, or your team? I’ll give you a hint: No. It was a piece of useless, catty gossip that’s better going in one ear and out the other. To spend any time thinking about it would be a waste of your time and brain space. If, however, something he says does impact you, your work, or your team (or all three), then it’s probably worth paying attention to.
3. Don’t Dwell on His or Her Attitude
Like I said above, mental states can be infectious. If you aren’t careful, pessimistic thoughts can sneak into your brain and take up a residence there. Either you’ll unknowingly adopt the same views, or you’ll find yourself stewing about this person, whining about her to everyone you see, as well as thinking about her whenever your mind is unoccupied. And this isn’t how you want to live your life, right?
As Amy Morin, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do: Take Back Your Power, Embrace Change, Face Your Fears, and Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success, says, “Don’t allow negative people to steal your time and energy. Rather than complain about people you don’t enjoy, choose to strike up conversations about pleasurable topics. Similarly, instead of spending your commute thinking about how much you dislike that person you have to work with, turn on the radio and listen to music that reduces stress. Take back your power by limiting the amount of time you spend talking about, thinking about, and worrying about unpleasant people.”
Make a list of the things you like about your job and frequently revisit it. (If you don’t have much on this list—or anything at all—then maybe it’s time to reevaluate). Also, surround yourself with teammates who “will inspire you to be a better person, provide you with motivation to achieve your goals, empower you to make the changes you need to success, and cheer on your success,” says Leon Logothetis, author of Amazing Adventures of a Nobody: A Life Changing Journey Across America Relying on the Kindness of Strangers.
Moral of the story: You’re probably going to encounter a miserable person everywhere you go. You can’t avoid it. But you can prevent it from affecting you. Believe it or not, work can be a happy place. Don’t let one person ruin it for you.
Photo of frustrated person courtesy of Compassionate Eye Foundation/Hiep Vu/Getty Images.
Abby works in health education and prevention at a university in Washington, DC. When she’s not trying to make the world a healthier place, you can find her taking selfies with her cat (Mildred Meow Meow), hunting down the city's best grilled cheese, or zipping through the city on her bike, named Libby. Say hi on Twitter.More from this Author