Like Water Off A Duck's Back: How To Deal with Negativity In The Workplace

Have you heard the expression, “to let it roll off you like water off a duck’s back”?

Rumors. Complaints. Criticism of the workplace. Glass-half-empty colleagues.

When faced with negativity in the workplace, these things can be an obstacle to overcome. Like water rolling off a duck’s back, let the negativity slide off of you.

In any workplace, there are almost certainly a handful of toxic or disgruntled coworkers who want to spread their misery. It could be their personality, or maybe they’ve had a bad experience with a boss, or they simply aren’t a good fit for the organization. Whatever the reason, some people have consciously or unconsciously become a downer.

You may think that you’re focused enough that you won’t get sucked in, but sometimes it can happen before you realize it. You might find that your time is being wasted listening to the negative talk, or if you’re not extremely cognizant you might even get drawn into joining the negative talk yourself. Perhaps you’ve even said a thing or two in the past that you now regret. Most importantly, the negativity can leave you feeling emotionally drained and distracted. Without monitoring, your motivation could start to run down the tubes.

Chances are, your bosses have also noticed that your colleague is a bad apple and the last thing you want is to be guilty by association with that person. Not only that, you will be thought of as a poor judge of character.

So how do you deal with the toxicity?

Prevent the negativity from getting to you:

1. Surround yourself with people who are positive.

That doesn’t necessarily mean people who are “always happy”, but solution-oriented people whose approach is to focus on improvements when faced with challenges and disappointments.

2. Set your own positive tone.

Let the people around you know that you’re not interested in their negativity. Give short responses and avoid building the conversation. Acknowledge what they’ve said and move on. “I’m sorry to hear that,” and change the subject.

3. Redirect.

Make the conversation a constructive one by asking what they have done to try to fix the situation. You might also suggest that they speak to someone who can help them. Often negative people aren’t interested in these solutions, but by replying in a constructive way they might start to get the message that you aren’t joining in on their complaining.

4. Beware.

Be wary. Negative people come in all forms. From advice, to a heads up, to a joke, or supposedly “friendly” small talk. Listen carefully to what people are saying and what their intentions really are.

Stay focused:

1. Check the source and facts.

If there is truly an issue of concern, use your own sources that you trust to investigate and determine if it is important and if you can or should take action.

2. Remember that it isn’t your job to change their minds or fix their problems.

Once someone is disgruntled, their performance will usually begin to suffer, or maybe poor performance is already an issue. Even if someone is talented, while disgruntled they will be blind to the solution, they won’t communicate effectively, and they won’t be able to build trusting relationships with their bosses or colleagues. When someone isn’t giving their 100% commitment and effort, they won’t work well in a team. With these people, the “issue” they’re coming to you with is really just the tip of the iceberg. Your involvement likely won’t do much to help fix their problem and is more likely to distract you.

3. Have clarity and remember your mission.

Why are you there? Why is this job, or project, important to you? What are your goals? Once you remind yourself of the end result you are working towards and the relationships that do matter, you will find that you don’t have the time or energy to indulge in the negative conversations.