There was a period in my life when people called me a “drag.” Once I found out, I worked hard to turn it around. Today, I might not be called a ray of sunshine, but I’m not bringing people down anymore. I remember when I decided to change. It was during a conversation with someone who needed surgery. When she told me where she was going to being operated on, I told her a story of how someone I knew died in that hospital. She looked at me and asked me why I would say something like that. Her comment made me take a step back and asked myself, “Geez, why would I say something like that?”
People who are negative will fall somewhere on the pessimistic spectrum. They vary from the run-of-the-mill complainer to the serious negaholic (that is, those addicted to being negative.) In an office, pessimism is like a cancer. It can grow and spread and cause serious harm to your team (read my post on negativity in the workplace). Negativity and pessimism also stifle creativity and motivation to take on new things. Like the saying goes, “When opportunities knock, a pessimist complains about the noise.”
Here are some suggestions for dealing with a pessimist:
- Try and understand why they act like do. Chances are, they come from of a long line of pessimists. They usually are incapable of identifying their negative emotions. On top of that, they also haven’t learned how to resolve these feelings once they have them. When something bad happens, they may look externally to justify why they feel so bad. Consequently, they becoming a victim of someone or something.
- Develop compassion for the pessimist. They’re suffering and could use some caring. This doesn’t mean, however, that you have to put up with their behavior.
- Set boundaries. Just because someone is a drag, doesn’t mean you have to be dragged down with them. Check in with your own emotions to see if you are being pulled into their negativity. If it’s appropriate, set limits on them and point out their behavior… like what was done to me.
- Don’t try and fix their problems. Be empathetic, but don’t take on their stuff. They’re choosing to play the “victim.” Be careful not to feed that belief. They need to own whatever is happening to them. You can help them do that.
- Help them reframe their picture of the world. Pessimists believe that problems go on forever; they need help seeing the reality that it’s only temporary. They also have the false belief that everyone feels the way they do, which is seldom true. And, most importantly, they believe they have no control over whatever is going on. You can help them identify the areas that they do have control over.
If you are the boss, try and avoid hiring the pessimist in the first place. You do this by hiring for attitude. Bringing someone on to your team with a positive attitude and limited technical skills is usually more valuable than hiring someone with high technical skills and a negative attitude.
One last thing, if you’re worried you might be a drag…well you just might be. The good news is that you have 100% control over turning that around.
What suggestions do you have in dealing with a pessimist?