5 Ways You Can Save Yourself From Workplace Negativity

Workplace negativity is almost inevitable. If you work in an office with more than one person, there’s bound to be a negative Nelly or Ned nearby.

You know the kind:

  • They whine and complain.
  • They talk too much.
  • Sometimes they even steal someone’s lunch.

Working in a space with different personalities can be challenging, no doubt, especially when said Ned or Nelly spends the entire morning espousing about the end of the world or how much they hate their job and boss or anything that contains the color yellow. It’s exhausting. 

Short of finding a way to convince our negative coworkers to take a few days off (or get them canned after planting a stolen stapler in their desk), how can you stop the whiners from whining?

The truth is, you can’t stop workplace negativity. But you can learn how to deal with it so it has less impact on your day. We’re going to show you exactly how to do that. But first, let’s take a look at the most common workplace negativity found in the form of those Neds and Nellys.

5 Ways You Can Save Yourself From Workplace Negativity

The Most Common Negative Co-Workers

1. The Gossip

You can identify a gossip from across the room because they’ll be the one that keeps talking and talking. They might even use their hands a lot as they ramble on about things that may not even be true. They are wide-eyed, fast-talkers that typically have no facts to support their story. Favorite gossip bits include: who got fired, who will get fired, and who’s smooching who.

2. The Drama Queen

Drama Queens (or Kings) are also easy to spot because they usually talk loud and shriek frequently. They’re the ones that bolt straight up out of their seat if they see a bug. They’re also the ones that will throw the largest fit if it’s their lunch that happens to go missing.

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3. The Boo-Hisser

The Boo-Hisser is the most negative person in your office. They hate everything. The sun, unicorns, cute babies, and brand new puppies. There are very few things in their worldview that they find pleasant. As a matter of fact, if you ever hear the Boo-Hisser say something positive, you might actually think something is wrong with them.

4. The Victim

Also known as the Whiner, the Victim is the Ned or Nelly who blames everyone and everything for their hum-drum life. It’s the janitors fault the soles of their shoes are worn. It’s the babysitter’s fault there was no coffee at home this morning. It’s your fault they don’t like their job because you never talk to them.

If you’re dealing with any of the above personalities in your office, read on. There are some remedies, and we’re about to share them.

5 Ways You Can Save Yourself From Workplace Negativity5 Tools for Dealing with Workplace Negativity

When we have to share a space with someone who steals our sunshine, our first inclination might be to tell them where to go. But the truth is, returning negative fire isn’t the answer. Ever hear the phrase, “Kill ’em with kindness?” Believe it or not, it actually works. That, coupled with a few other techniques, just might be the very thing you need to deal with workplace negativity.

1. Set Boundaries

When it comes to the stream of toxic talk that spews from Ned’s mouth, you may think there’s no saving you. But there is. The longer you stay around negative energy, the more it can seep into your life and destroy your own sunshine and unicorns. That’s why you’ve got to make the conscious choice to step away from the conversation.

Keep the time you engage with them short. Excuse yourself if you have to, but just step gently and quietly away from the storm. Don’t worry about appearing rude. You’re not. You’re merely making a choice that serves your own well-being. Also, people like this will think you’re rude no matter what. Bear this in mind as you slowly walk away from the water cooler.

2. Weed ‘Em Out

There’s no question that toxic talk and constant complaining can shift the culture of a company. If you’re the boss and you’ve got one apple spoiling the whole barrel, it’s time to sit that apple down for a chat. Ignoring the complaints of your staff won’t change anything. But addressing those complaints might actually be enough.

Chris Mefford, author and host of the podcast Leaders in a Hurry calls this concept “faux firing.” Give them a warning without actually threatening termination. Be sure your approach is fair, and offer the employee a chance to change before letting him or her go. If there’s no change, you’ll have to let the bad apple spend the rest of its days in a different orchard.

3. Lay Down the Sword

The fastest way to disarm an irate or annoying co-worker is to lay down your sword while they keep swinging. Author and speaker Richard Carlson said, “A more peaceful way to live is to decide consciously which battles are worth fighting and which are better left alone.”

Remember that most negative people fight for their right to be, well, right. Let them be. Your place isn’t to prove them wrong. Your place is to disarm them by not engaging and walking away. Not every battle is worth fighting. But hanging onto your own peace of mind is.

5 Ways You Can Save Yourself From Workplace Negativity4. Don’t Take it Personally

If you can lay down your sword, that’s an excellent sign that you have a handle on not taking things personally. For many of us, not taking things personally can be difficult. Don Miguel Ruiz wrote a popular and compelling book in 1997 called The Four Agreements. In it, he highlights the second agreement, “Don’t Take Anything Personally.” One of the first paragraphs in the section reads:

“Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.”

In other words, understand that any toxicity that comes from a negative coworker’s mouth really has nothing to do with you. It’s their “stuff.” Let it be their stuff. And then walk away.

5. Find Your Friends

Spending time with others who have a stable emotional intelligence can be your saving grace. When the going gets rough and the Boo-Hisser and Victim are at full throttle, all of those super positive quotes taped around your cubicle may not be enough. Grab your coat, head to a quiet room, and phone a friend.

Reaching out to another co-worker, parent, or mentor to talk you through the situation might just be what the doctor ordered. When your judgment is clouded and you’re triggered by Ned, you need an objective voice that can offer a different perspective or fresh approach. Sometimes their words alone can calm you.

5 Ways You Can Save Yourself From Workplace NegativityOther Quick Tips on Workplace Negativity

It can take some time to learn how to hone the skills of a calm and collected co-worker. As you learn how to pick your battles while not taking things personally, here are some other quick tips on how to deal with the negative Neds and Nellys at work:

  • Don’t overthink the situation. If the toxic individual has you riled, shut your mind down and focus on work instead.
  • Be brave and offer to work as a team. Decide to meet halfway on a decision. The outcome may surprise you.
  • Remember that you can’t control their behavior. They are who they are and probably always will be.
  • Skip office politics. Gossip starting at the water cooler? Take a sharp left back to your desk instead.
  • If they have a complaint, don’t try to resolve it. Send them to the management team.
  • Kill ’em with kindness. Nod and smile. Agree to disagree. And grin through the insults. They’ll stop when they see that you’ve not been triggered.

Workplace Negativity Is Something You Can Navigate

You can’t change the way people are, but you can certainly change your response and attitude toward them. If you’re really interested in letting go of how workplace negativity affects you, consider what Michael A. Singer did in his book, The Surrender Experiment. Singer, after a series of realizations, decided to not let personal fears dictate his life. Instead, he made the choice to surrender to the people and situations, good or bad, that showed up before him.

If you choose to do the same, that means you have to accept and surrender to the gossips, the drama queens, the boo-hissers, and the victims. Will it be easy? No. Not at first. But you can start putting into practice the methods we talked about as early as tomorrow. Before long, you’ll notice that none of the negative people really bother you anymore.

Finally, remember that everyone has a story. Some of those stories aren’t pretty. If you’re dealing with a negative personality at work, there’s no question that a negative, painful story lies behind it. Bear that in mind as you navigate the hallways and cubicles of your workplace. In the end, be the very best version of you. The rest will surely fall into place. And who knows? Ned just might turn out to be your new best friend.

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Becca Borawski Jenkins
Becca is a bit like a cat — she’s gone through a few “lives” to get to her current one (with which she’s quite pleased). She earned her MFA in Cinema-Television Production at USC’s famed film school, and her first career was as a music editor (if you’ve watched Scrubs, you’ve likely heard her work).

Becca found her way to career number two through martial arts. She began training in BJJ and muay Thai and started working with professional MMA fighters, building websites, working on fight promotions, and producing videos.

As a competitor in BJJ herself, Becca wanted to get stronger and fitter. In 2005, she became a student at CrossFit Los Angeles where she met WLC co-founders Andy Petranek and Michael Stanwyck. In only a couple years, she became CrossFit Level III Certified, left her entertainment career, and dedicated herself full time to coaching, serving as the Program Director of CFLA and founder of the CFLA CrossFit Kids program.

After seven years as a music editor and then eight years as fitness instructor, Becca segued to her current career — full-time editor and writer. She and her husband are full-time RVers and have a first-hand comprehension of the pros and cons of remote work.