5 Ways to Cope With Negative Colleagues

by Gary S. Topchik
People demonstrate their negative attitudes in many different ways. You can learn how to handle each one, but there are some general coping strategies.
Recognize that an attitude problem exists.
The first step is to recognize that someone is expressing negativity in the workplace. Do not ignore it if it is affecting that person's performance, your performance, the performance of others or relationships with your clients or customers.
Acknowledge any underlying causes for the negative attitude.
As we know, negativity has many causes. The factors could include personal problems, work-related stress, a difficult boss, job insecurity, loss of loyalty, lack of growth or advancement opportunities and so forth. It helps to get the person to see the causes for his or her negativity. Ask non-threatening questions of colleagues like, "You look stressed. Can I help?" It is also important to recognize that what is causing the negativity is often justified and that the negativist has the right to feel that way.
Help the person take responsibility. 
It is ultimately the responsibility of the negative person to change his or her negative attitude and behaviors at work. Even though the person may have every right to feel the way he or she does, it is still not appropriate for the workplace. As a team member or boss, you need to help your colleague recognize this and to have him or her take ownership. Consider addressing the problem privately with the person in a way that demonstrates concern for both their problems and the well-being of the team.
Replace negative, inappropriate reactions with different, more acceptable ones.
Even though we just said that it is the job of a negativist to change his or her actions, you may need to help. The person may not know what to do differently to come across as more positive. It will often be up to you to specify exactly what that is. You can suggest that people aren't aware of the person's great qualities or that his contributions are being eclipsed by negative behavior.
Instill positive attitudes in others.
Be the role model for your negativists through your actions and behaviors. You can prevent their negativity by instilling in them the positivist bug. If you do that, they may never catch the negativity virus again.
Most of all, it's important to start a dialogue with difficult colleagues so issues can be addressed.