How to Deal With the Resident ‘Debbie Downer’ in Your Office

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We tap Dubai-based life coach Sophia Fromell of Ithaca Life for her expert tips on those big, hard-to-answer questions about life and career. Here, she shares her advice on how to deal with negative co-workers.

Unfortunately, we’ve all come across toxic people at some point in our lives. This may come in the form of those who regularly criticize our behavior, undermine our confidence, or play the victim and fail to take responsibility for their own actions. As a consequence, this can make us feel belittled and personally targeted. And what do such people have in common? Negative energy.

Toxic people are easy to remove if they are in your personal life (more on that, here), but the situation can be a lot trickier when you share the same workplace as them. Here, Savoir Flair share six tips to help you tackle negativity in the workplace.


Spot the Negative Person

It’s usual for people to offer opinions and advice when you’re in a work environment. However, there may be a few who are keen to offer their opinion about subjects that don’t actually concern them and are outside their area of expertise. The key here is to closely observe not only what the person says, but also how they say it. If you feel yourself becoming irritable, or that your energy is being drained, you may be dealing with a toxic person. The first step is to reflect on who makes you feel this way.


Provide Feedback

Providing constructive feedback to your colleagues is extremely important for their development, especially if you are their manager. Negative people have a tendency to blame others for their own negativity, citing excuses such as workload, demanding working hours, and colleagues who do not appreciate their potential. It is essential that people in managerial positions continue to provide constructive feedback to such individuals, especially to highlight how others in the workplace perceive them. Not only can this illustrate how the negative behavior is impacting their interpersonal relationships, but also show how it affects their own growth opportunities at the company.


Remember: Negative Thoughts Are Infectious

Let’s say you’ve just been assigned to a new project and you’re bursting with excitement and creative ideas – until you speak to that toxic person in your office. They will undoubtedly be quick to point out all the shortcomings of your plan and the limitations of your ideas. The seed of doubt has now been planted in your mind, and suddenly you feel down and demotivated. Negativity is contagious, and negative thoughts are faster and easier to spread than positive ones. In this case, use the “3:1 rule”: three positive thoughts for every negative one shared in a brainstorming session to push out any negative thoughts.


Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover

Being judgmental of a person who is the daily doom and gloom of the office is only natural. First impressions tend to stick, so it’s easy to label a person “difficult” in an office environment. No matter how tempting it is, avoid labeling and judging people. Equally, avoid engaging in office gossip about them. All this does is perpetuate the vicious circle of negativity.


Keep Your Distance

Negative people are naturally inclined to vent to those who offer compassion and lend an ear. Don’t feel pressured to indulge them. Although you can’t completely avoid negative people in a professional environment, you can still influence the extent of your engagement with them on non-work related tasks. For example, you may choose to avoid spending your coffee break with them. You can also choose to disarm their negativity – even if temporarily – by saying something like, “I’m sure it’ll get better soon” to politely end the conversation.


Surround Yourself with the Right People

As humans, we are extremely social creatures. Think about how much of your happiness depends on the quality of your relationships and the people who surround you. You can’t always choose your colleagues, but you can make a genuine effort to ensure you are surrounded by positive, like-minded people in your personal life.

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