How to Handle Negative Coworkers

Sales can be a tough business. Potential customers can be impolite or even downright mean. We face it all the time, don’t we? The sad truth is that we often also need to learn how to handle negative coworkers. If you’re in outside sales, you might be able to simply limit the amount of time you’re around them. If you’re in inside sales and they’re in the cubicle next to you, that’s another story.

The important thing to realize is that you can’t control them. You can only control your response to them.

There were a few Negative Nellies in my real estate office. They’d always be sitting around chatting when I’d come into the office after prospecting or showing properties. Knowing that I’d be within range of their negativity, I would mentally visualize zipping myself into a positive shell before walking through the door. I’d smile and say hello, and something like “what a great day this is” but avoid responding to any of their negative chatter. I’d simply gather my messages and head straight to my desk. Picking up the phone was a great deterrent of these people. They were professional enough not to interrupt business calls with their negativity.

Unfortunately, there were times when they’d plop themselves down in my office and start venting about something or another. When this happened, the first thing I would do would be to look at my watch. I’d then tell them what I was working on, “Hi, Joe, I’m in the middle of putting together a comp that I promised to deliver at 2 today. I’d be happy to chat with you after 4:00.” And, guest what happened? Most times, Joe would not pop back at 4. He would have either vented on someone else, gone to a meeting of his own, or gotten over whatever was bothering him at the time. Try that strategy of scheduling your time with negative people if you can’t avoid them entirely … and limiting it to not more than 5 minutes. “Joe, I’d like to help you if I can. Give me a 5-minute overview of what’s bothering you. If I can help you, I will. But if I’m not in a position to help, then we haven’t wasted a bunch of time for either of us.”

If you’re in a situation, such as sharing a cubicle, where you feel you do need to speak with another about his or her attitude, realize that some people aren’t aware they’re being negative. Others know they’re speaking negatively but aren’t aware of the impact it has on others. When you point it out, kindly and gently, some will appreciate the head’s up and work on their attitudes on their own. They don’t want to be known as a Debbie Downer or a Complaining Carl. Others may think you’re wrong or being controlling and not want to hear it.

My point here is that you don’t have to accept negativity into your life. You can and must control you how respond to it. Don’t just react. In fact, I challenge you to invest 5 minutes right now thinking about how many ways you can protect your mental health the next time you encounter a negative co-worker. (Hint: Start with a smile because you know life is good and sales is a killer career!)

Copyright Tom Hopkins International, Inc.



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  1. James (Sales Coach World) says:

    Great piece, Tom.

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