Negativists in the Workplace: How to Identify and Handle Negativity at Work

by Melany Gallant | Posted | Engagement

Negativists in the Workplace: How to Identify and Handle Negativity at Work


Organizational negativity can take on many forms and happen for many reasons. Improper or unreasonable working conditions, lack of career advancement opportunities, or badly implemented corporate and policy changes are all reasons employees’ morale and the organization’s productivity decrease and negativity spreads.

However, the organization is not always to blame for a negative environment.

Sometimes…it’s the people.

At some point, we’ve all worked with a “Debbie Downer”, a “Lemon-Sour”, or the guy who never has anything nice to say. They are what we call negativists. Negativism, in case you didn’t know, is the habitual attitude of skepticism or resistance to the suggestions, orders, or instructions of others.

It’s a real challenge to work with people who are frequently like this, because their negativity rubs off on us. The human brain is wired to have a “negative bias“, and it reacts more strongly to stimuli it deems negative.

In the spirit of one of our previous posts on how to handle egos in the workplace, let’s look at how to handle negativity in a work setting.

Rain On Everyone’s Parade Guy

Favorite Sayings: “No”, “It will never work”, “That’s stupid” “That’s impossible”

Rain on the parade guy

The department is in a meeting and Wendy has made a great suggestion for a new service the company could offer clients in the upcoming quarter. Everyone is onboard and enthusiastic. Everyone except Rain on Everyone’s Parade Guy (REPG). Knowing this initiative will entail significant change and a combined group effort, REPG spouts things like: “Sorry, but I don’t agree”, “That would never work” and “We don’t have the time or budget”. But no one is fooled; this is REPG’s way of passing negativity off as pragmatism.

If This Is You: A change could do you good! Having a negative attitude is self-defeating. The more you try and resist change, the more difficult you make the inevitable on yourself. Change happens with or without you. You can complain and try and bring everyone down with you. But, it’s much more rewarding to get on board and be a part of innovation than a force against it.

Transforming a negative mind frame into a positive one requires making a conscious effort. It may not come naturally at first, but the more you turn those ‘nos’ into ‘yeses’, the closer you are to stepping out of those heavy REPG shoes.

How to Handle REPG: Negative people tend to project their insecurities onto others. When they’re feeling especially negative, they do everything possible to make those around them perceive the world as they do. They’re often vehement resisters of change and don’t like it when people try and get them to do something differently. To handle the REPG, it’s important to understand that they often don’t realize how they come across. Sometimes it’s just a matter of stating your own realistic optimism with concrete examples of why something could work to show a REPG another point of view worth considering.

Miss Lemonface

Favorite Sayings: “Grunt”, “WHAT!?”, “Not right now!!”

miss lemon

If a smile speaks a thousand words, Miss Lemonface’s frown is the extended version of War & Peace. Miss Lemonface is unapproachable, avoids eye contact and strikes fear into the hearts of her coworkers. You wouldn’t dare ask her for a tissue as she’s a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. You can smell her negativity from a mile away and when she is really revved up, she becomes tyrannical and is angry and hostile towards everyone around her.

If This Is You: Simmer down, you’re frightening people! When you become immersed in your own negativity, it becomes toxic and sucks away positive energy from an environment. Because negative people often feel alienated from groups for whatever reasons, be it work stress, or even problems at home, they actually alienate themselves by their thought and actions. Completely disengaging from your coworkers, or worse, only engaging with them when you’re angry, will eventually kill motivation (yours and your coworkers). So start by watching your tone of voice and your non-verbal behaviors. Maybe you’re not in a bad mood but people assume you are because you are constantly sending out negative signals. Work to consciously put on a smile, think positive thoughts and engage with others.

How to Handle Miss Lemonface: Lemons tend to suffer from a feeling of inferiority and try to elevate themselves by making other people feel small or by being the “reality-checkers” that everyone needs. They are difficult to work with, especially directly. Try approaching them with a positive attitude and pay them small compliments that help them feel valued. Acknowledging their positive contributions or achievements can also help.

If your boss happens to be a Lemonface, you need to be systematic about how you approach them. Keep a journal, noting the behaviors you find unfair and unprofessional. If you let them know how their behavior is affecting you in a timely, professional manner it can help turn things around. If they react badly, take your problem up with human resources.

Senor Nitpick

Favorite Sayings: “Redo this”, “Not that way, this way [read: MY way]”

senor nitpick
Image Source:Politics Forum

Senor Nitpick is always difficult to please, but when he’s in a particularly negative mood, he zones in on the smallest, most trifling details to feel in control. If Senor Nitpick happens to be the manager, he can quickly drive his entire department up the wall with his micromanaging ways.

If This Is You: Focus on team-building and leadership rather than picking on people’s work. This is not to say that you should compromise your attention to detail. But, if you find yourself frequently correcting employees and asking them to redo their work according to your specifications and standards, you are methodically bringing down their self-esteem and confidence. But you’re also missing out on their valuable contributions. Everyone has different talents and perspectives to contribute – making the most of them results in a better, richer solution. Remember, your job is to help your employees be their best, not be clones of you. So channel your energy towards getting acceptable end results from your employees and resist the urge to want everything done your way.

How to Handle Senor Nitpick: The best way to handle a Nitpick is to be prepared. Nitpicks want to know what’s going on at all times, so instead of waiting for them to ask, beat them to the punch by frequently updating them on progress. Clarify conversations and agreements you have with them in a trail of e-mails.

Frau Fragilica

Favorite Sayings: “Is it me?” “Are you mad at me?”, “I can’t handle this!”

frau fragilica

Frau Fragilicas are overly sensitive people who are unable to tolerate the slightest criticism, be it constructive or a simple suggestion. They often misconstrue people’s words as being a judgment against them, which in turn leads them down a spiral of negative thinking and rants. The result: people refrain from genuine communication with them, hindering productivity and work cohesion.

If This Is You: You MUST change your perceptions of situations! By being overly sensitive you are more likely to get in a bad mood and get depressed because your mood changes with every small event that happens. And let’s face it, small things happen all the time! Try to embrace the motto “don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s all small stuff” to help you rationally assess situations. Start with a positive attitude and engage in positive rather than negative self-talk.

How to Handle Frau Fragilica: Though our inclination would be to “handle Fragilica with care” usually the best way to “handle” any personality type is to level with the person and be clear in what you say and how you say it. Overly sensitive people are fine tuned to pick up cues and signals, assessing verbal and non-verbal gestures and evaluating their congruency. If they sense the slightest hint of insincerity, their hyper-analytical minds, already susceptible to negative thinking, will instinctively perceive the situation as negative and an attack on them.

When approaching a potentially delicate situation with Frau Fragilica, the first thing to “handle with care” is your disposition. If you address them in an unambiguous and genuine manner and it still causes the fragile egg to crack, it may be best to have a manager confront the individual.


Confronting negativity in the workplace is a must, because the moment the negativity bug stings one person, it can affect the whole work team. As a manager, meeting an individual’s negativity head-on shows you care about the employee and want to help them, but it’s important to let them know that you also want to prevent others from being affected by it. Ask them what they would need to have a more optimistic outlook at work. Identify alternative, more positive ways to behave and assign the negativist with the task of coming up with their own action plan.

And above all, understand that the problem is with them, not with you. Try to separate yourself from their negative attitude so it doesn’t bring you down.

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