9 Tips for How to deal with negative co-workers

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Here are nine quick tips you can try if you’re wondering how to deal with negative coworkers:

  1. Ask if there is anything you can do.

  2. Set boundaries.

  3. Reduce contact.

  4. Respond, don’t react.

  5. Redirect their energies.

  6. Don’t gossip.

  7. Try to empathize.

  8. Connect with positive people.

  9. Focus on your own work.

If you are not already under too much pressure at work from multiple deadlines, training for certifications, and projects piling up, dealing with a negative coworker may not seem too hard. But when your mental and emotional bandwidth is already used up, dealing with a negative coworker just adds even more stress to your plate. 

There are tactics that can help. Take a step back, cool off, and remember these nine tips from Pluralsight before your next negative coworker encounter.

1. Ask If There Is Anything You Can Do

Does it seem like your coworker has become a chronic complainer because they have no idea how to ask for help? As the saying goes, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” We don’t mean to join them in complaining, but join them to see if you find a solution together. Rather than butting heads, put your heads together. You can use this as an opportunity to reach out and simply ask if there’s anything you can do, assuming the situation is a work-related issue and you have time to deal with it. 

Tip: Is there a specific project giving that person problems for which you have a solution? Do you have any advice to give on a tricky supervisory situation? Utilize your expertise and experience to mentor others. Just remember to offer assistance without becoming a crutch for your negative coworker. Rather than fixing the problem for this person, try pointing them in the right direction or offering helpful suggestions.

2. Set Your Boundaries

It’s great to be helpful when you’re faced with a situation that isn’t going to stomp on your productivity or sour your mood, but you also need to be mindful of your own healthy boundaries. Let’s say you’re dealing with a coworker who’s all but screaming for your input on a sticky situation. After actively listening to the issue at hand, you’ll probably understand how it should and shouldn’t be handled. Still, you should proceed with caution before offering any serious advice.

Tip: To ward off a negative coworker without blowing them off, tell them you don’t think it’s your place to make decisions in their department or projects. Suggest they instead talk to their supervisor or human resources rep.

3. Reduce Contact

There are days when being positive feels more challenging than training for a marathon, but it’s essential to your mental and emotional health that you make an effort to see the sunnier side of things. However, this can be especially challenging when you’re around a coworker who loves being the bearer of bad news. When you find yourself constantly dealing with a chronic complainer, it can really drag you down. Not only that, but it can take a toll on your productivity for the rest of the day. So, if possible, reduce contact with this person.

Tip: There will be times when you’ll have to share the same space (meetings, projects, and the like), but if you have the opportunity to work in your own area, take advantage of it. If your coworker is constantly approaching you, kindly let them know that you’re busy at the moment and offer a time when you can get back to them.

4. Respond, Don’t React

When we’re forced to deal with a negative coworker on a regular basis, biting your tongue can be a real challenge. Sometimes all you want to do is throw your hands up and tell the offending party what you really think. Of course, that’s never a smart idea, especially when it can cost you your job. Reacting (rather than responding) to a negative situation may entice you to say or do something that can be hard to recover from. 

Tip: Stop and breathe. If it helps to walk away from the situation, do it. Some folks have an uncanny ability to stay calm in the midst of chaos, but if that isn’t you, allow yourself however long it takes to respond appropriately. When you need to exit an uncomfortable situation for fear of losing your cool, simply say something like, “I need some time to process this, I’ll get back to you after I’ve given it my full attention.” 

5.  Redirect Their Energies

If someone comes to you, yet again, with another gripe, try redirecting their energies by changing the subject or giving them a lightweight task to complete. This will give them something else to focus on other than themselves.

Tip: Some things to try are to ask them if they have a special event or vacation coming up. This is usually a surefire way to get them thinking about something good. Or, ask them to run a quick errand, pass on a message, or remind them to take a break (and perhaps suggest a walk around the block). 

6. Don’t Gossip

When gossip is happening all around you, it takes effort to stay out of it. However, it is in everyone’s best interest if you just don’t get involved. This is true whether the talk is about other team members, supervisors, or people in other departments. Just say no; otherwise, you run the risk of getting tangled up in nasty office politics that are sure to haunt you down the road.

Tip: If someone is gossiping to you, instead of repeating what is said to someone else, respond with something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, I try not to get involved.” Others may not only take the hint but also follow your example, much to the betterment of the office.

7. Try Empathizing

It’s easy to label someone a negative person when you rarely see them smile or the only news they ever have to share is the bad kind, but the truth is we don’t really know what’s going on in that person’s life. Sure, there are people who are just downright pessimists, but oftentimes there’s something behind that behavior. Because of this, it’s important to listen to everything that’s being said—and try to understand why it’s being said—and withhold offering advice immediately.

Tip: Take a few deep breaths and try to put your frustrations aside while you actively listen to your coworker. Let them know that you’ve heard them by responding with a few thoughtful words. Sometimes, listening is all the person really needed.

8. Connect with Positive People

Find coworkers who have a zest for life and a more positive, supportive, and helpful outlook. Their good attitudes will help strengthen your own. Plus, it will send a signal to all negative coworkers that you aren’t there just to listen to people’s problems but are there to work and contribute to the team.

Tip: When you shine positivity on a toxic coworker, they may suddenly have no interest in interacting with you. Your lack of validation of their poor behavior and attitude will put them off, and they will turn to someone else who shares their same outlook on life and work.

9. Focus on Your Own Work

If someone is always taking your focus away from your own work, that can ruin your ability to be the best employee you can be. While it’s easy to get sidetracked on negative comments swirling around you, do your best to perform at your highest level with what’s right in front of you. Set goals that challenge you. Take pride in your abilities. Put your head down and get to work.

Tip: If your negative coworker is impinging on your time and affecting your performance, tell them the challenge you’re having: You want to be supportive, but your tasks are suffering. If the problem continues, it may be time for you to bring the issue up with your supervisor or human resources rep.


When it comes down to it, your coworker’s problems are not likely to be your problems. Be kind  but honest with them. While it’s possible there will be some backlash, it’s also likely that your coworker will try to tone it down. This will allow everyone to be more productive and happy at work.

Now that you know how to deal with negative coworkers, see what other advice Pluralsight has for you!


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Stacy Warden

Stacy Warden is a contributing editor of the Pluralsight blog and has worked in publishing since the dawn of the iPhone. Currently, Stacy deals in tech and education--a combination that she finds absolutely fascinating. You can find her on Twitter @sterrsi.