How to Deal With a Negative Coworker

If you are surrounded by someone who constantly whines or is rude and mistreats coworkers, you may quail from coming to work even if you love your job. The behavior of your coworkers makes a huge impact on your job performance, and job satisfaction and unhealthy work ethics and attitude can drive you to leave your job and move on to other employers.

Negativity can be contagious in the sense that workers often model — whether knowingly or unknowingly — the actions and behavior of their workplace peers. Negativity at the workplace often leads to conflicts and differences.

A negative behavior does not just put other coworkers in a bad mood – it also has a tangible, measurable influence on how an organization function. Some of the impacts of an unchecked negative attitude are;

  • –  Lackluster performance
  • –  Reluctance to work collaboratively
  • –  Dispirited approach and vision
  • –  Disinclination to try new things
  • –  Alleviated energy levels
  • –  Anxiety
  • –  Low productivity
  • –  Poor customer engagement
  • –  Complications in overcoming challenges

Negativity can breed disrespect and create a toxic environment where there is no incentive to try. Coworkers and subordinates show no trust on one another and employees strive to get through the day than prosper, be victorious and take the initiative (Felps & Byington, 2006).

The Three Most Common Types of Negative and Toxic Coworkers and How to Deal with them:

1. The Narcissist

A narcissist is a coworker who is highly conceited and will always brag about his achievements, accomplishments and his personal life incessantly. Such people are not at all empathetic. The moment you try to present your opinion and endeavors, a narcissist will quickly change the focus back to himself.  Some typical characteristics a narcissist coworker exhibits include; a narcissist is a conversation hoarder and interrupter, status dropper, spotlight hogger, steals or takes disproportional credit, sensitive to criticism, blame others for their shortcomings, exhibits toxic and negative emotions, exhibit passive-aggressive tendencies and breaks the rules and social norms (Leonard & Harvey, 2008).

2. The Bean Counter

Another common type of bad coworker is the “bean counter.” A bean counter is one who believes in micromanaging. Such coworkers are inflexible, do not believe in openness, efficient working and decision-making. These types of individuals are hyper-focused on minute things and will become upset or frustrated if you promise to do something you are unable to. A bean counter demands orderliness, control, and perfection.

They have obsessive demands for the most minute details and ensure that nothing constructive and meaningful ever gets done. Such people make other coworkers to feel overworked and unhappy (Baier, 2014).

3. The Venus Flytrap

The Venus flytrap is a person who cycles between overvaluing and devaluing you and flips into more negativity. Such individuals have unstable and intense personal relationships that begin with tremendous overvaluation. In short, the Venus flytrap is a person who believes in push-pull relationships. Such people will continuously describe boundaries and reinforce them with clarity. Such people will compliment you, boost your ego and even make you feel like you are friends.

They create chaos and lash out if things do not go as per their planning and expectations. The Venus Flytrap will keep calling and texting you and get annoyed and aggressive over perceived slights. The Venus Fly Trap often has a lot of energy and high emotions. You will be drawn to such people just like flies are attracted to a dead flower. The Flytrap has the potential to create enormous drama in the office, the type where people feel they require to walk on eggshells surrounding them to not set them off.

In short, it can be said that a negative coworker spreads toxicity and influences everyone who is acquainted with him. He thinks that experience is a tangible commodity and uses peer pressure to hold other people back. Such people are quick to grab the glory, and they are even quicker to throw others under the bus.

How a Negative Coworker Impacts Coworkers and the Organization 

1.     Negative coworkers promote bullying

When employees see their co-workers being bullied, the experience brings down the morale and zeal throughout the department and the organization as a whole. People who work in a bullying environment are more likely to quit their jobs even if they love their job and have been working in the organization for a very long time. Bullying by one employee results in widespread bullying because if management does not intervene, the negativity takes its toll and causes long-term damage to the self-esteem of everyone working in that particular organization.

2.     They will keep complaining about everything

A negative coworker is that high-performing bad apple. This kind of employee is consistently toxic, belittling the organization, challenging management, and whining about just everything. This kind of negative behavior usually spreads. When normally happy and satisfied workers adopt the attitude of the “bad apple,” they turn against the company and spoil the entire work culture. Such individuals are pessimistic to the point that they would find a reason to whine about an across-the-board raise for the whole team.

3.     A negative coworker influence everyone in the organization and ultimately leads to low productivity

A co-worker who’s always whining and complaining about everything makes the workplace a battlefield. Such a negative attitude creates conflicts and managing a workload becomes much more difficult. When toxic behavior infiltrates the workplace, workers become disinterested, disengaged and less productive.

Coworkers with negative attitudes think about how much hatred they have for their jobs. During brainstorming sessions, such toxic individuals become the proverbial wet blanket making everyone else anxious and disturbed. Creativity potential of the team reduces due to which performances suffer, and innovation is stifled.

4.     Unhappy employees create unhappy customers

When employees are unhappy at the workplace, they vent out their bad mood on their clients. As a result, clients get annoyed and take their business elsewhere.  These unhappy clients even vocalize their horrible experiences amongst their peers, opponents and even the social media. This will eventually bring a bad name to the company.

5.     They also create additional unhappy coworkers

The positive worker is bound to break if forced to work with an extremely negative peer. The toxicity of a negative coworker creates other unhappy coworkers.

The most common and destructive negative behaviors we see at a workplace include:

  • – Backstabbing, denigrating, and blaming
  • – Gossiping, trash talking and spreading rumors
  • – Taking advantage of the misfortune of others
  • – Agreeing in meetings, but not following through afterward
  • – Hoarding information
  • – Not acting like a good team player
  • – Outwardly offending others
  • – Instinct discomfort in other coworkers
  • – Purposely undermining others
  • – Complaining, whining and offering no solutions
  • – Oversharing
  • – Fostering negativity
  • – Displaying self-serving behavior

Eight Tips for Dealing with a Negative Coworker 

  • 1. Start by Realizing You Can’t Control their Behavior
  • 2. Listen to the Employee or Coworker’s Complaints
  • 3. Spend Time with the Positive Crew
  • 4. Try Not to Overanalyze
  • 5. When All Else Fails, Kill them With Kindness
  • 6. Set Some Limits
  • 7. Raise Your Own Game, and Keep Your Ego in Check
  • 8. Disciplinary Action for Persistent Negativity

1. Start by Realizing You Can’t Control their Behavior

The first step in dealing with a coworker who is extremely toxic and negative — particularly in the workplace — is accepting the fact that you have little or no control over his behavior. The best thing to do is to ignore their rudeness and aggression and try to avoid getting into any feud with them as much as possible. Try to focus on how you can react to the negative behavior of your coworker in a way that does not drag you down or leave you being disturbed over the situation.

2. Listen to the Employee or Coworker’s Complaints 

It is essential that you listen to your coworker. Sometimes employees repeatedly showcase negative sentiments over and over because they feel unheard. Listen actively to your coworker using emotional intelligence and try to clarify their statements. Listening to the coworker will help you decide if they have legitimate reasons for their negativity. Using active listening can help you understand that coworker’s situation, and then you can collectively find a solution. You can offer advice or ideas for how these negative coworkers can address the reason for their negativity.

It is all about inclusion. If you want your coworker’s negative behavior to shift, try to involve the toxic minded coworkers in more and more workplace activities. Make them feel that their inputs are valuable. Do not let them grumble their way to effective dissatisfaction with the business and with the other employees around the office (Cavaiola & Lavender, 2000). 

3. Spend Time with the Positive Crew

To ensure that toxicity of a negative coworker does not influence you, stick to positive employees around your workplace. Do not empathize with a negative coworker.  If you ‘bond’ with them on a negative issue, they will take you for a ride thinking that they found a partner in their distress, and they will cling to you every time they feel something negative. One of the best methods to counter the behavior of the negative coworker is by focusing your attention on the positive crowd. Positive people will boost your spirits, make you feel more upbeat, cheerful, and more constructive in the workplace (Parkes, 1990).

4. Try Not to Overanalyze

We should avoid overanalyzing every single situation because we end up wasting a lot of productive and valuable time in assessing the behavior of negative people. It is better to keep a safe distance as to avoid getting guzzled into their toxicity.

5. When All Else Fails, Kill them With Kindness

When nothing works, the best way to deal with a negative coworker might be to kill them with your humility, kindness, and positivity. You should always keep in mind that a negative coworker is an energy vampire. They can suck the life right out of you and force you to remain engrossed with their negativity. Nothing can bog you down at work in the morning like the thought of being immediately encountered by a toxic Nancy. The best way to battle that negativity, discomfort and energy suck is through the use of positive vibes. Whenever you encounter rudeness, payback being too polite and kind. Negativity will automatically stay away from you.

6. Set Some Limits

Setting boundaries with the negative co-worker at hand are prudent. If you are working on some project with that coworker, you cannot avoid them. In such cases, do not allow yourself to get involved into their negative conversations, and do not show any sympathy for their toxicity. Set some limits. Do not let their toxic behavior harm your physical and emotional health. Most of us lack self-awareness, especially in the workplace. Keep a check on yourself and ensure that the rude behavior from a negative co-worker neither impacts you nor your team productivity. Own and endure what you can, do not waste your energy and time on things that you cannot influence, and try to bring a change if you have to. If you have worked your buns off to establish good relationships with your subversive coworker(s), and it is not helping, or becoming worse, consider one to one with a Human Resource professional or a reliable adviser. But if you tried all the options and nothing seems to work, it is better to exit (Hogh & Dofradottir, 2001).

7. Raise Your Own Game, and Keep Your Ego in Check

Avoid stooping to the level of your negative coworker(s). Monitor and try to deal with your fight-or-flight response. Focus on your team goals and business interests. That way the probability of you becoming blinded by win/lose thinking with this toxic peer will reduce. Be the mentor who sets the benchmark for his team. Maintain a standard with the rest of the team that is supportive of collaborative efforts, openness, mutual agreements, and open dialogue, not retaliation.

8. Disciplinary Action for Persistent Negativity

If the persistent negativity of your coworker is impacting your productivity and your ability to perform your work professionally, disciplinary action including employment termination should be considered. However, if the problems that warrant negativity are left unaddressed and your current organization does not support your desired work environment, you may want to consider moving on. Do not expect the current culture to change anytime soon. It is prudent to move on.


The recipe for a healthy organization includes happy workers with positive behavior. If you notice any of your coworkers’ behavior starting to take a turn for the worse, intervene immediately. Bring it in the notice of your management and your allies. Try to address the complaints of your negative coworker.  Instead of allowing more and more problems faster, be proactive and try to nip the issues in the bud whenever you can.

Dr Amita F. – Technical Research/Academic Consultant and Writer

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