Some people seem to quite enjoy dwelling on negatives. They are cup half empty types and it can be very draining to work with them. I call them “Eeyores” after AA Milne’s famously lugubrious donkey.
It’s a shame because it’s hard for you and truthfully, can they really be happy if they’re moaning all the time?
If you have an Eeyore in the workplace, what’s the best way to manage the situation and look after yourself?
Be empathetic. Remember, their negativity is not personal. In most cases, your colleague is not trying to make you upset or frustrated by their negative approach
If you work with an Eeyore, try to balance this by spending some time with people who give you positive energy and lift you up. When you have to spend time with a really negative character, find ways to regain a happier frame of mind afterwards, whether it’s taking a walk, meditating, or listening to music.
You don’t have to be a passive recipient of your colleague’s downbeat outlook. Encourage an approach that moves away from the negative and offers an alternative, more positive version. For example, if your colleague complains that a manager is giving him more work than anyone else on the team, you could say something like: “It’s probably because you did a good job on X and he knows you’re competent and reliable.” Your goal here is to help your colleague refocus and choose a different mind set.
Don’t encourage constant moaning. Offer solutions to problems. Perhaps your colleague is complaining because he has an unspoken need that’s not being addressed. Ask, “Do you have any expectations that we’re not aware of?” Or: “I hear you are upset about XYZ. Let’s have a think about ways of resolving it.”
Confronting a colleague about their behaviour is difficult, but if this person is taking a toll on business results, you need talk to them about the impact they’re having. Be thoughtful and considerate. Your aim is to show your colleague that the way he express himself has a ripple effect.
I had a friend who complained constantly about how much she hated her job. This went on for about five years. I adopted some of the tactics I’ve just described. She was very good at her well paid job, so we talked about that. I helped her with her CV and we discussed what steps she could take to change her role. But she did nothing – just complained. In the end, I said that I didn’t want to talk about it anymore until she had taken some steps to change her role. To start with she bridled a bit and asked another friend who was present at the conversation if she really spent that much time complaining about her job. He told her that she did and she was stunned. She had no idea that she spent so much time being negative and ultimately how draining it was for other people.
Your tone and word choice are critical here. Don’t snap: “You whine all the time! Shuttup!” Instead, focus on the behaviour your colleague should be adopting, not the behaviour you wish she’d stop.
And finally, set your boundaries. For example, if your colleague regularly comes to your desk for a gripe, set new rules of engagement. Don’t be rude, but be clear about your limits. Go quiet and use your body language to signal that you don’t want to get into it. If you see the person coming, say, “I have about six minutes to talk”. It’s not a perfect process, but at least you won’t have to tolerate it for too long.
Take steps to manage and reduce the effect of workplace Eeyores or they will wear you out.
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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.
Copyright © 2018 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.
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