I used to work with a colleague on the opposite coast, so her day started three hours before mine. And so, it was quite typical to check my voicemail first thing in the morning and hear an angry voice: "Lea, it's Petra. Call me as soon as you get in." Just listening her messages was exhausting, and the return phone calls were equally draining. Not a fun way to start the day.
In my entire career, she was the most difficult person I've ever worked with. You see, Petra was incredibly negative. Every conversation was full of drama: She'd ramble on about a bunch of issues she was having with a partner company, for example, then tell me I'd better get them straightened out. In the end, not only did I have to put out fires with the partner, but I also had to fight battles on my own team to get anything done. (It's comical to note that I outranked Petra — and that she had created nearly all of the problems!)
Now, I'm sure there's some deep and weighty scientific reason why negative people are such energy sucks. But all I know is, they just are. And when you're surrounded by them, it's certainly a challenge, as both a manager and a colleague. That said, you can't control other people; the only thing you can control is the way you choose to respond to them. With that in mind, I like to think of workplace negativity as an opportunity to hone self-advocacy, assertiveness, and boundary skills. (Petra sure taught me how to do that!)
Here are some of the most common types of negative workplace personalities I've encountered — and some ideas on how to effectively deal with them.
1. The Bad News Bears
Like Petra, these folks revel in the negative. They can't wait to tell you that the supplier made a mistake, the executive is ticked off, and someone's head is going to roll. But as much as they thrive on sharing this negativity, it's incredibly draining for you. (With good reason: Research shows that workplace negativity creates a toxic environment that has an adverse impact on your mental, emotional, and physical well-being.)
Deal with the real issue at hand — if in fact there is one — and then walk away. I became a master at this when I was forced to listen to Petra's travails. If there was something I could do to help the situation, I did it (like sucking it up and calling the client she'd ticked off. I also worked on managing my own stress level by simply listening quietly or asking clarifying questions until I could end the conversation).
But mostly, her spiels were non-productive venting sessions that certainly didn't deserve much of my time. To exit the conversation gracefully (and quickly), try using quick getaway phrases, like "I have a phone call I need to jump on," or "I need to prep for the meeting this afternoon."
2. The Gossip Mongers
In a corporate environment, it can sometimes seem like the rumors never stop. Someone heard there's going to be a layoff, a new manager was hired, half the department's getting fired, or no one's getting a raise. Substantiated or not, these rumors get repeated over and over, usually by the same people, who just love stirring up the worst-case scenario of what's going on.