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What to do if the Whiners are Drawn to you in the Workplace?

Updated: May 25, 2023

Are you a negativity magnet? Do all the complainers and whiners seem to seek you out and bend your ear about issues, concerns and problems they are having in the workplace?

And is their repeated negative storytelling zapping your energy and pulling you down?

Astonishingly, in a new Gallup study on the American workplace, 2/3 of our workforce are disengaged. The study further breaks down and reports that 51% of our workforce aren’t engaged in work and another 16% are actively disengaged. Therefore, leaving 33% of our workforce engaged.

These numbers are striking and certainly tell a story.

As you would imagine, there are a variety of reasons that are contributing to these astonishing numbers.

“In a study conducted by Towers Perrin and researchers Gang and Gang, the study determined the top five reasons for most of employee negativity. They were the following:

^Excessive workload

^Concerns about management’s ability to lead the company

^Anxiety about the future

^Lack of challenge in their work and

^Insufficient recognition for their level of contribution”.

If you are working in an environment where your colleagues are showing up and pouring out high levels of negativity, there are measures that you can take to shield yourself from buying into the toxicity.

Below are four steps to combat those negative individuals so you can create a healthier work environment for yourself and colleagues.

Step #1 Become aware when it is happening

Negativity can creep in. Be attune and aware when your colleagues are coming to you more often to share their strife’s and issues. Are you being sought out, the go-to person and the venting ear to your team? Do you feel drained after speaking with some colleagues who seem to have a negative perspective or twist on everything? And do these colleagues come to you with the same repeated issues and concerns?

A coaching client of mine, June (not her real name) reported feeling emotionally drained everyday after work. As she sifted through the contributors she came to realize that several of her colleagues would approach her during the workday with the same complaints. She also recognized that they only complained. They never had or were focused on solutions.

June realized that their continuous venting to her and her continued willingness to hear them out was creating undue stress.

June realized that she had become a “negativity magnet”.

Step #2 Be empathetic yet promote and defend your interests

Everyone needs to work in a supportive environment and have entrusted people to share their issues and concerns. Listening and understanding another’s perspective is a valuable attribute and life skill. Showing your care and concern for others is essential. At the same time, you also need to promote and defend your interests and ensure that your needs are considered and are at the fore front. You must protect and preserve your wellbeing at the same time.

June decided that it was important for her to continue to be a caring colleague and to do so she simultaneously needed to remove herself from the negative forces. June realized that she was a contributor to the situation and that it was going to require dual efforts to change the script.

Tony Robbins says where focus goes energy flows. June decided that she was going to change the focus of the conversations, so the direction of those conversations could shift.

Step #3 Recommend a mindset change or a change to their situation

You may notice that some people seem to want to stay and live in their negative stories rather than do something about it. If you do notice that your colleagues and peers are coming to you with the same issues repeatedly and are making no effort to address or change the situation suggest the following; change the way they are thinking about it or change the situation.

During June’s coaching sessions, she role played utilizing this strategy and practiced it live with her colleagues. She found that when she challenged her colleagues to problem solve and be solution based their conversations began to shift in the right direction.

June found that some of her colleagues began to view the situation from a different lens. For example, their stories did not snowball, or they decided to act and elevate their concerns to their managers.

Step #4 Set limits as necessary

Sometimes changing your script may not produce the results that you are seeking. It may take more persistence and an additional step. Setting some firm and clear limits may be in order. Do not be surprised if you may encounter resistance when setting limits. Remember you are attempting to direct your colleagues to shift their mindset or chose another route.

June encountered those situations as well and learned that in some cases, it required her to take her conversation to the next level. June needed to set limits. In some cases, she set limits directly while other times she did so indirectly.

June’s indirect messages came in the form of limiting the time she could talk. She let those colleagues know upfront that she only had 3-5 minutes to talk and then she needed to get back to her other tasks at hand.

In June’s direct messages, she would tell other colleagues that their negative venting and lack of action to resolve the issue was negatively affecting her. She told them explicitly that although she cares about them and their situation, she also cares about the impact it is having on her. Both scenarios were difficult for June however she did report success with these strategies.

I once read on a coffee mug, “You cannot have a good day with a bad attitude and you can’t have a bad day with a good attitude”. So, if you find yourself stuck in the role of complaint listener in the workplace, use the steps noted above to tackle and change that scenario. Identify that negativity has crept in. Remain empathetic and prioritize your interests. Suggest a mindset shift or situation change and set limits as needed. These strategies will put your in charge of your workplace experience.


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