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How to stay afloat when the office pessimist tries to drag you under

By Lynne Curry

Pessimists come at you with negative words such as “you’re wasting your time” or “that will never work.”  If you’re not careful, this onslaught can snuff out your enthusiasm, leading you to give up on ideas, adventures or opportunities that might power your career or work life forward. Here’s how to avoid letting a pessimist’s negativity drain your optimism.

Plug the drain

Negativity can be contagious. If you work with a pessimist, remember that they don’t see the whole picture, but instead focus on what’s wrong and anticipate the worst. As Oscar Wilde once said, a pessimist complains about the noise when opportunities knock.

If you work alongside a relentless pessimist, don’t tie yourself in knots trying to persuade him things are better than he thinks, just get to work and let the results you achieve do the talking.

Don’t give pessimists excess power

Don’t let the pessimism in another person awaken the pessimist in you. Once you’ve heard what a pessimist says, remember that pessimists rarely accomplish anything. Instead, focus on what you believe in, what’s going right and what you’d like to make happen. Remember what’s important and why it’s important and let the outcome you want to achieve inspire you, and ultimately others.

Seize the value

Don’t so overreact to a pessimist’s aggressive negativity that you shut your ears to the value her comments offer. A pessimist might speak the truth that you don’t want to hear or see but need to. If NASA had listened to those who warned that the Space Shuttle Columbia wasn’t ready, the seven astronauts who perished would still live.

If you strip off the outside negativity that cloaks a pessimist’s concerns, you might learn you’ve made false assumptions or need to revise your game plan.

Forgive them

Few pessimists realize the negative effect they have on others; they’re just sharing their worldview. Many have become pessimistic because they’ve been knocked down once too often, been passed over for a promotion without understanding why, or feel safer pointing out what’s wrong because so little in their life is right. Train yourself to differentiate between their draining comments and behavior and the often insecure individuals they are underneath. Don’t, however, feel you need to fix them or their thinking. You’re not responsible for their negativity nor do you need to turn them into an optimist.

If you’re the manager

If you’re the manager of a team hobbled by a pessimist, don’t let their negative comments linger or to go unaddressed. Negativity can kill a team’s momentum and team member motivation. Instead, ask the pessimist to clarify what her comments mean and listen to her. Once you’ve heard her out, ask “What can we do to make sure that this works?” or to come up with a better alternative to the strategy she has panned.  In other words, pull her from her nay-saying bystander position and invite her to join the team.

You may be able to learn

Finally, if you’ve tried all of the above and there’s a pessimist in your work life who continues to drain you, ask yourself “how come I let this person impact me so severely?” You learn a lot by analyzing the feelings another inspires in you. Perhaps you’re not as sure of yourself or your ideas as you’d like to be and this person senses that and nips at your Achilles heels. Maybe you expect everyone to climb on the bandwagon when that’s asking a lot from those who don’t instinctively agree with you. Once you identify why other’s pessimism bothers you, you dismantle their power over you.










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