Merge's Blog

Deal with defensiveness in negative people

I am repeatedly asked about strategies to combat negativity in the workplace.  And in the past I have offered several proven tools to resist or reduce workplace negativity (see below for links to past blog posts).  Today though, I want to focus more specifically on the people who are negative and the tactics they use to create a toxic work environment.  In reality, there are only a limited number of ploys that negative people use, and if you know what they are, you can be prepared to deal with them.  One of the tactics most commonly used by the Negative Nellies of the world is to become defensive.  It makes sense if you think about it: low self-esteem is a root cause of negativity, and so such a person will frequently take a defensive stance to “protect” himself from perceived attacks.  “Why is everyone always picking on me?” or “No one ever returns my phone calls” are common refrains you might hear.

So how do you conquer defensiveness?  By acknowledging the person’s issues and then refocusing him on yours. You want to be sure you acknowledge the issue without anger or judgment, but emphasize that your issue is going to be addressed first. His issue will be addressed – later.  “I understand your concern Roger, and I am willing to address that with you separately later.  But right now, I’d like to focus on what we are going to do to get these objectives accomplished by the end of next week.”

So what do you think?  Are low self-esteem and defensiveness character traits of negative people?  Is this an effective way to deal with it?  Let’s get the conversation started; please add your comments below.

Previous blog posts that offer solutions to deal with workplace negativity


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