I was recently watching a brilliant interview with the former Assistant to Mark Zukerberg, Anikka Fragodt. During her presentation she said that she was always open and approachable with her colleagues at Facebook because she felt part of her role was to council her colleagues and pass their fears and concerns onto her Executive. This is so true and such a vital part of the role… But, as we all know, some colleagues are easier to interact with than others! In our continued series about building relationships with colleagues, today, we will look at how to deal with the office downer.

It can be difficult working with a colleague who is a ‘cup half empty’ kinda person, who gives out negative vibes and never has a good word to say about anything. It can be especially difficult for assistants to work with this type of person because we are often the cheerleaders of our department. We are often tasked with team morale, organising after work drinks, team building activities and generally spreading some joy. So here are some quick tips on how to deal with the office downer and

Does their negativity have any merit?

Always start from a place of empathy (as hard as that sounds!) Ask yourself, do they have any merit in their complaints? Sometimes people are being negative for a reason and they just want someone to listen to them, and you know, resolve their issue. As an assistant, you are the eyes and ears of the office. This means that you do have to take on board what your colleagues are saying and feed this back to your Executive – if it is merited. If the office downer is complaining because that is simply what they do, then feel free to try the following strategies!

Changing the subject

I find this works quite well with most situations. If you find yourself in a conversation with the office downer and it is becoming more and more negative, why not try to change the subject on to something that is less controversial – what are you doing for lunch? Wow, the weather today is GREAT! That type of thing! Once the conversation has changed to something non-work related you can excuse yourself with a “well, I must get on… Busy, busy, busy!”

Harness their knowledge

From experience I’ve found that the office downer has usually been at the company for years with no plans to ever leave. They may not be aware of their impact on other members of staff, but everyone else feels like they drain energy from the team. To combat this make use of the fact they have been at the company for ages. Ask them how things were done ‘back in the day’. Give them projects that require knowledge of procedures that have been in place for a long time. Basically give them lots of stuff to do that will occupy their time. Solo projects are also good for office downers working in a team may not quite play to their strengths!

Defend yourself

It can be easier to ignore the office downer, after all, everyone else probably does. But, actually it might be better if you stand up to the office downer, especially if they are saying disparaging things about you. For example, if you have organised some team bonding activities and you are only getting or hearing negative comments from the office downer it would be worth reminding them that is is difficult to please everyone and you are trying to do your best to bring the team together for an enjoyable event. Also, give them the option to organise something for the team next time.

You can’t please everyone

If you do work with an office downer remember that you can’t please everyone. Surround yourself with the fun, kind and positive people in your office. Their positivity will counteract the negativity you get from the office downer.

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