Safeguarding Your Energy: How to Deal with Office Eeyores

You’re in a good mood. Lots of meetings on the agenda, work you’re (mostly) excited about, and even an iced latte. Then enter, the office Eeyore – Shutting down ideas, endlessly complaining, and sucking the energy right out of the room.

These so-called party poopers can have a draining effect on even the most optimistic, purpose-driven people. When you’re working to create a healthy, positive work environment, running into ever-present negativity can be exhausting.

When someone is continually negative, you’re likely not going to 180 their attitude with a couple of suggestions (bummer, I know). But you can teach these folks how to treat you, and most importantly, you can safeguard your own emotions to prevent their negativity from seeping into your soul.

Here are four ways to manage an office Eeyore:

Dilute it. This is a pure numbers strategy. The more time in your calendar you give to conversations that drag you down, the more your entire day (or life) will start to feel the effects. Buoy your spirits by breaking up stretches of negativity and adding in workouts, time to relax, and conversations that will inspire you right after the negative experience.

Redirect, instead of pushing back. One of the most powerful techniques I’ve learned about dealing with negative people comes from my nephew’s martial arts class; more specifically, Aikido. In Aikido, you’re taught that when someone attacks you, you don’t push directly back. Instead, you redirect their energy elsewhere. Think guide vs push.  With a constantly negative person, redirecting their energy could mean pointing them towards a resource, like their manager or HR. It could also be suggesting they take action to resolve whatever negativity they are expressing. In many cases, they’ll correctly ascertain the subtext of, “I’m not going to partake in your pity party.”(You teach people how to treat you, by showing them what you will and won’t tolerate.)

Play to the top of the room. I got this advice early in my career when I was giving large seminars almost every week. Back then, I was overly obsessed about the (usually small) amount of people who would sit at the back of the room, arms crossed, refusing to engage. I assumed it had everything to do with me, or their dislike of the content. I spent a hugely disproportionate share of my brainpower trying to win them over. This kept me from fully showing up for the people who were excited. Playing to the top of the room reverses this, it means leaning into the people who are enthused, the middle will catch up, and then the Eeyore’s won’t dominate.  The “play to the top of the room” advice applies to almost every facet of life; point yourself to where the positive energy is.

Don’t take it personally. This one can be challenging. When you’re making a proactive effort to be positive, even an unsolicited eyeroll can feel like a personal affront. But in most cases, it’s not. In all reality, you have no idea what’s going on beneath the surface. Some people have challenging childhoods, tough circumstances, or are facing immeasurable hardships they’ll never speak of in the workplace.

Last week, I wrote a story that stayed with me forever, and helped me realize, you never know what someone is going through.

Ultimately, we are only in control of our own behavior. You need not sentence yourself to decades of fending off constant negativity. Instead, recognize that you’re in the power position.