How To Handle A Colleague Who’s Bringing Down The Office Vibes With Their Negativity

The office environment is a delicate ecosystem, and when one colleague starts getting negative, it can quickly bring the whole team down.

By Ella Carroll-Smith3 min read
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You know how a smile can be contagious? Well, so can a frown. When you have an overly negative colleague at work, their bad attitude can quickly infect other people in your workplace – including you! Complaining about work is a common way that colleagues build camaraderie and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even mild or good-natured complaints can quickly turn mean. 

One Negative Nancy can quickly bring down the entire office vibe, and your job is stressful enough without all of that toxicity! Here are a few ways to handle an overly negative colleague and bring some much-needed peace and positivity back into your workplace.

Hear Them Out, but Don’t Let Them Take Advantage of You

Just because someone is being negative doesn’t mean what they’re complaining about isn’t valid. If it’s a new colleague or even an old colleague who’s never been overly negative before, then go for a coffee and genuinely listen to what they have to say. Maybe they’re completely justified in their point of view. That doesn’t mean they’re justified in bringing everyone else down, but if you can understand where they’re coming from, it will be a lot easier to resolve the issue.

When you’re talking to your colleague, give them a fair hearing. If they’re upset about something like missing out on a promotion or getting thrown under the bus on a recent project, then it’s understandable that they’d be in a negative headspace. Tell them they’re justified in feeling that way, but that the best way forward is to leave that anger behind them. 

Remember that empathy is a two-way street. 

If this person is piling on that negativity and there’s not any good reasoning behind it or they refuse to see things from a different perspective, then that approach might not work. Remember that empathy is a two-way street, and if they refuse to understand where you’re coming from or how their actions are affecting others, it could be impossible to reason with them.  

There’s also a possibility that their negative perspective is simply a difference in personality or sense of humor. Maybe their idea of a good joke is one that’s always snarky or at the expense of other people. Be honest – but not accusatory – and tell them that you know they’re joking, but they still hurt your feelings. Clear and open communication is the only way to actually solve a problem. 

Realize You Can’t Control Their Actions, Only Your Response

It’s not your job to fix your colleague’s bad attitude (unless you’re their boss, that is). If this colleague is your peer and they’ve already refused to listen to your advice or perspective, then there’s not much more you can do for them. You can’t control other peoples’ actions in life, but you can control how you respond to them. Work can be stressful enough as it is and the last thing you need is someone else’s bad attitude affecting your ability to do your job. So don’t let it!

Focus instead on doing your best work and lifting up other members of your team. Sow positivity wherever you can and find a work buddy with a better attitude. Go for coffee or lunch with them and while you’re there, try to clear your heads and shake off any lingering negative energy from the office. Don’t dwell on the negativity; move beyond it and focus on the positives you have going on, both inside and outside the office. Maybe they have an exciting vacation lined up. Ask them about that instead of something work-related. 

Misery loves company and when someone realizes they won’t get that from you, hopefully they’ll move on.

When you do have to interact with your negative co-worker, don’t give into the negativity. Choose to rise above it instead. If they realize that you’re not going to jump onto the complain train with them, then they might be less likely to come to you with complaints in the future. Misery loves company and when someone realizes they won’t get that from you, hopefully they’ll move on.

Don’t Join Them, Beat Them (with Kindness!)

At the end of the day, this person is still your co-worker and someone you’ll inevitably have to interact with on a somewhat regular basis. You know that old saying “if you can’t beat them, join them”? We’re definitely not going to do that in this situation, but you can put a fun twist on it. Beat the negativity by killing it with kindness!

Whenever your colleague makes a snarky comment or complains about something, stay positive in your response. Maybe they poke fun at a fellow co-worker: “Nice skirt, Mary, did you find it in a dumpster?” Instead of laughing, tell Mary you actually love her skirt and think it’s super cute. 

Or maybe Negative Nancy won’t stop complaining about a work project. Even if you’re super stressed about it too, recognize that complaining is not going to get the job done any faster. Tell Nancy that you’re stressed too, but you know that you guys will be able to pull it off. Offer to get her a coffee or snack from the break room. Small, random acts of kindness can turn someone’s whole day around so don’t underestimate how far a little bit of compassion can go. 

Closing Thoughts

Now, if your overly negative colleague is truly affecting your team’s ability to do their work, then it might be time to go to your boss and have an honest conversation about it. Don’t tattle, but simply express your concern for the entire team. As long as your intentions are good, then you can’t go wrong!

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