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How to deal with a very negative coworker is one of the most common questions we get in workshops, and it’s one of the toughest questions to answer because people are complex. The human brain has 85 billion neurons, give or take, depending on what you did in high school and college, averaging several thousand connections each to other neurons in your brain. That’s immense complexity, and it means that every person is unique.
Influence Rather Than Control
We cannot control each other. We can influence each other, but we cannot control each other. So if you work with someone, maybe you share an office with someone who has a really bad attitude or is just very negative. A few things to keep in mind. First of all, as I’ve explained in another video, moods are contagious. So that negative coworker will catch some of your positive attitude, but also, you will catch some of that negative coworkers bad attitude if you are not careful.
So you might need to consciously work against that by feeding yourself more positive attitude, more positive company now and again to combat that negative attitude that you’re getting exposed to. But also, remember when you bring the positivity, some of that will spread to your coworker, as long as you don’t overdo it. An analogy I like a lot is that people are kind of like rubber bands. They’re flexible to a point. If you try to push a rubber band somewhere, you quickly end up with a knotted mess.
Autonomy Matters–Give It and Get It!
I think people are very similar. Autonomy is a huge intrinsic motivator for us. Do you like being micromanaged? Of course you don’t. Nobody does. So don’t tell your negative coworker what to do and how they need to fix their bad attitude and push, push, push, push on them. You will end up with a knotted mess. If you pull too hard, “Hey, everybody, look on the bright side. Life is great, work is wonderful, we have so much to celebrate,” they are probably going to break.
If I pulled this rubber band too hard it would just break. You can’t pull people too hard either. But if you gently pull on a rubber band or a person, sometimes is just lines up and follows you along. I mean, of course, having a positive influence on your colleague, so pull them when they want to be pulled.
One of my favorite jokes is, “How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Answer, one, but the light bulb has to want to change.” Same situation here. Can you change your coworker? Yes, but only if they want to be changed, and they’re gonna want to be changed if you gently encourage them in a positive direction rather than pulling to hard or pushing them. So just be a positive presence. Take care of yourself first. I think happiness is very much like oxygen masks on airplanes. If you want to help colleagues around you be happier, great. But help yourself first, and you’ll be in a much better position to help others.
Apply Your Own Oxygen Mask First!
So first, take care of yourself. Make sure you don’t get pulled into that negativity with your coworker, and then gently, when the opportunity is there, when you’re preserving your colleague’s autonomy, see if you can’t nudge them gently towards choosing more happiness at work.