Toxic Coworkers: Criticizers
The first time Mark criticized Vince, a new employee, Vince didn’t reply. He figured that Mark was either having a bad day or didn’t know that Vince had only been partially trained. The second time Mark criticized him, Vince apologized and commented that he’d be glad when he received the rest of his training. This morning Mark again lashed out at Vince in front of some of their team members about work he had done, and then loudly asked him: “Why did you do that?” Vince felt the question was derogatory and out of line; he’d had enough of Mark’s criticizing. Vince wondered: Was Mark going to continually take potshots and belittle him just because he wasn’t as experienced?
Some people are born criticizers. While some people talk about others behind their backs, criticizers have no problem taking the talk directly to the person. They take potshots, rely on cheap shots, and use sarcasm when speaking. If they don’t speak directly to the person, they make aside comments loud enough for the person to hear.
Whatever the reason for a person’s criticizing, it can be very tiring. In the case of a constant criticizer like Mark, you can either continue to ignore the person, continue to thank the person for his or her opinion, or enter into a conflict resolution conversation.
Powerful Phrases to Use with Criticizers
Define the problem: “If you meant that as a joke, I now have a better understanding of where you were coming from. And, my understanding is that your idea of joking is to call someone out in front of other people.”
Offer your best solution: “Being a new employee and not knowing as much as the rest of you already puts me in an uncomfortable position. But Mark, no one has a right to criticize me like you did, joking or not. I’d like us to agree on how we communicate with each other going forward. Can we agree that in the future I can count on you to speak to me in a more constructive manner?”
How to Deal with Criticizers
Apply the following principles when dealing with a criticizer:
- The first time someone criticizes you, choose whether you want to ignore the remark or act on it.
- If you choose to respond, try saying: “Thank you for your opinion.” This is apt to end the conversation.
- Whenever someone criticizes you, view the criticism as a growth opportunity. Analyze the criticism. If it’s valid, decide what you can do to improve.
- If you need additional training to correct the problem, ask for it.
- If the criticisms continue and have no validity, you can continue ignoring the criticizer, continue thanking the person for his or her opinion, or decide to confront the person.
- Before entering into a conflict resolution discussion, think through the likely conversation.
- You may catch the criticizer off guard, and the person may respond as Mark did by brushing off the criticisms as jokes. Don’t let the person off the hook or the behavior is apt to continue.
- Make sure the person understands why the criticisms create a problem for you.
- State specifically how you expect to be treated.
- Agree on a resolution and offer a phrase of reconciliation.
Toxic Coworkers: Negative Nellies
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 Nelly 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 Nellies
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?”
How to Deal with Negative Nellies
Apply the following principles when dealing with a negative Nelly:
- Your best approach may be to ignore the negativity.
- Don’t try to cheer this person up. It won’t work.
- Don’t allow a negative Nelly to affect your attitude.
- If you can, avoid the negative Nelly at all costs.
- Take your break and eat lunch at a different time, which may help you avoid entering into conversations.
- If you can't avoid this person, then speak up.
- State how the negativity brings you down.
- Confidently tell the person you’re not willing to listen to all the complaining.
- Be prepared to cite examples if the person denies being a constant complainer.
- 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.
- Offer a compromise by assertively saying that you want to keep your conversations on neutral topics.
- 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.