I share an office with someone who is stuck in a negative rut. She is unhappy in her personal life and burned out in her career. Needless to say, my entire day consists of listening to her rants and complaints. I’ve tried to be understanding but leave the office every day feeling drained. Any etiquette advice on how to navigate this situation? – R.S.
Kudos to you for recognizing there is a problem and enduring it for so long. You’re right, listening to an officemate endlessly complain is not the ideal way to move through your to-do list. Here are my etiquette suggestions for approaching this business scenario with professionalism.
How to Deal with a Negative Coworker:
- Speak up. It’s perfectly acceptable for you to set some boundaries and I suggest you say something along the lines of, “Jean, I’m sorry you’re having a hard time with your divorce and I know it has taken quite a toll on you. I feel empathetic and wish there was more I could do. I am not the person that can give you the most effective feedback and I suggest you speak to a counselor or a trusted friend for advice. It’s important that we focus on getting this project completed by the deadline and I need to give it my complete attention while I’m at the office.” This is a polite way of letting her know you are respectful of her situation but are no longer willing to get involved.
- Remind and repeat. Patterns can be tricky to break; there’s a good chance she’ll continue her same routine in the future. Don’t hesitate to reiterate your boundaries in a kind but assertive manner until she gets the message. You will have to put some effort in retraining an existing behavior but consistency will pay off.
- Plug in. If it’s permitted in your office, bring your earbuds to work and listen to music on your favorite radio app to limit conversation opportunities. Many people find the background noise puts them in a more creative state of mind. Hopefully, your coworker will buy a pair of her own.
- Relocate. Speak to your supervisor in confidence about the situation and request the opportunity to move to another part of the office. Stick to the facts and how the negative banter is affecting your own productivity. It’s important to maintain good office relationships while navigating the sticky situation.