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12 Powerful Ways to Deal with Negative Coworkers

Editor's Note:

You can't expect every person you work with to be a ray of sunshine every day of the work week. But there is a special group of coworkers who make that 9-5 life more of a grind than it really should be.

Negative coworkers can make your work life annoying at best and unbearable at worst. You may have tried ignoring and avoiding the negative people at your office. You may have also been surprised by how much effort it actually takes to ignore and avoid someone.

What if there were other options for dealing with negative coworkers?

Imagine if you could draw your line in the sand at their complaining and griping without feeling like a total jerk.

In today’s featured excerpt from Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Difficult People, author Renee Evenson shares 12 different ways of successfully confronting a negative coworker.

"If you can't learn to ignore the negativity, then speak to the person," Evenson writes. "Tell him or her how the negativity affects you."

Read the rest of the blog post or shop the book in our store.


With 325 phrases and a 5-step conflict resolution process, this book empowers anyone to lead the way in creating a more harmonious workplace. Discover how to confront thirty common personality traits, behaviors, and workplace scenarios and grow your communication skills while you solve your most pressing issues at work: people problems.

Susan avoided Mike at all costs. Mike was a negative Nelly and Susan, a positive person, couldn’t stand listening to him complain about anything and everything. Whenever she saw him in the hall, she pretended to answer her cell phone. Whenever he walked toward her work station, she picked up the phone and pretended she was making a call. Still, Mike managed to corral Susan whenever she didn’t see him coming. And once he started his complaining, there was no turning off the switch. Susan had learned that making upbeat comments had no effect, so she stopped trying to get Mike to see things from a more positive perspective. Being negative was so ingrained into his personality, that’s all Mike seemed to understand.

Negative people can really bring you down, and rarely, if ever, will you be able to bring them up. For these people, something is always wrong. And to a positive person, that becomes tiring quickly.

The best way to deal with a negative coworker may be, like Susan, to avoid the person at all costs. But you also know that may prove impossible when it’s a coworker with whom you interact on a daily basis. If you can’t learn to ignore the negativity, then speak to the person. Tell him or her how the negativity affects you. Be prepared to offer specific examples. Empathize with the person, but stress that all that negativity brings you down and you’re not willing to listen to it any longer.

Powerful Phrases to Use with Negative Coworkers

Define the problem: Every time you speak to me it’s to complain about one thing or another, and it’s really getting to me. All the complaining brings me down. And I empathize with you that you’d like some things to change around here. I’d like some things to change too. But I don’t think that complaining is going to make things better. In fact, for me complaining makes them worse because I’m focused more on what’s wrong than on what’s right. And there are a lot of things that are right too.”

Offer your best solution: “As I mentioned before, I really do understand where you’re coming from. And I’m glad that you understand that I don’t want to fill my day with negativity. Can we agree to keep our conversation on neutral topics?”

12 Ways to Deal with Negative Coworkers

Apply the following principles when dealing with a negative coworker:

  1. Your best approach may be to ignore the negativity.
  2. Don’t try to cheer this person up. It won’t work.
  3. Don’t allow a negative Nelly to affect your attitude.
  4. If you can, avoid the negative Nelly at all costs.
  5. Take your break and eat lunch at a different time, which may help you avoid entering into conversations.
  6. If you can't avoid this person, then speak up.
  7. State how the negativity brings you down.
  8. Confidently tell the person you’re not willing to listen to all the complaining.
  9. Be prepared to cite examples if the person denies being a constant complainer.
  10. Make sure the person understands how the negativity is affecting you, as this will help the negative Nelly understand that it’s causing you a problem.
  11. Offer a compromise by assertively saying that you want to keep your conversations on neutral topics.
  12. It may help to empathize with the person, but be very clear that you aren’t willing to continue listening to the complaining.

Adapted from Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Difficult People by Renée Evenson, copyright Renée Evenson.

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Renee Evenson

RENEE EVENSON is a small-business consultant specializing in workplace communication and conflict resolution strategies. She is the author of several books, including Powerful Phrases for Effective Customer Service and Customer Service Training 101.

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