Dave Conrad: How you can deal with a negative culture

Dear Dave: I think I have had enough with the negative people I work with. Everything is always wrong and all I hear is griping instead of ways to make things better. It is affecting me and I almost don't want to come to work each day. It is causing me to become much more negative myself. Should I quit? Is there anything I can do to put up with these employees? Help. — T

Dear T: No. Don't quit your job, at least not until you tried everything to cope, or you have found a great new job. I agree that it is extremely difficult to come to work when you are in the midst of "World Class Debbie Downers" -- people who could depress a clown convention -- but there are ways to cope and deal with the negativity.

When an employee or team -- sometimes, even a whole company -- constantly exhibits pessimistic, angry, hostile or uncooperative behavior, they need to be managed. The prevalence of a negative culture is a leadership problem and someone is not doing their job.

Even though personality conflicts, interpersonal friction, bad attitudes, pessimism and harsh, inappropriate criticism of the company may be present at varying levels, many managers are not prepared to deal with them directly and effectively. I think companies should provide training to managers so they can read the negativity "smoke signals" and handle them swiftly and specifically.

Negative attitudes are contagious. One negative employee, or a group of negative employees, can easily -- as in your case -- affect hard-working, positive people and even an entire company. Negativity is a roadblock to needed change, it inhibits productivity, it kills morale and it causes good people to leave and find work where they can enjoy a culture that invigorates and motivates them.


The negative tone and mood of teams and even entire organizations can become routine, and new employees -- who start with visions of doing well and staying positive -- can be indoctrinated quickly by "negativity spokespeople" as part of the orientation process.

I recall starting at companies where the "negativity champions" took me aside and informed me that, if I was to be a team player, I must become a charter member of the negativity circles. Basically, I would be judged and accepted by my ability to show I thought everything sucked.

Another thing I found is negative people tend to dwell on the same "bad" things over and over and purposely choose to ignore the positive stuff. They also have a tendency to sensationalize things and exaggerate issues they are facing, making things seem a whole lot worse than they actually are.

• Don't be a victim:Though the people around you may be negative and resentful, it doesn't mean you have to participate and buy into the attitudes and behaviors. I think it is natural for people to succumb to the negativity by reacting as their peers are acting, and then unknowingly become part of the problem. Instead of reacting, stop, take a breath and evaluate the situation.

• Nix office politics:You do have a choice as to whether you'll participate in the office gossip, negativity and nay-saying. It is crucial you stay focused on reality and not buy into blowing things out of proportion, pessimism and inaccurate depictions of announcements and events … and what is really going on.

• Avoid the people:If all else fails, reduce contact with them as much as possible -- when you need to interact, just cover the business that you need to discuss and back away. Try to mingle with the positive and realistic people instead.

ª Finally, it may be time to say, "Adios!":If the atmosphere is unbearable, you may have to consider moving to another department or even going to another company. Before you make that decision, however, do as much research as you can about your next job. You don't want to jump from the frying pan into the fire.

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