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Negative Nelly, Complaining Clarie, and Gloomy Gus…

They are contagious, you know. In fact, they are some of the most virulent agents of ill that are completely undocumented by the CDC or FDA or any other official sounding acronym that I could come up with to illustrate the point. While I’m pretty certain that a Perpetually Positive Polly would spark homicidal rage in the most stable of breasts, treading too long in the dark is draining, exhausting, and just not productive.

Negative Nelly

Can often be found hanging out with her buddy Debbie Downer. She and Debbie can find the cloud around every silver lining. Nothing can brighten their bad day. Nothing suits them quite so well as being able to share something horrible about someone who has had a run of good fortune. Prognosticators of pussilescence, they will be the first to predict misfortune and a downturn of luck when things are going well. They never have a good word to say about anyone, and while they are always willing to share all the juiciest gossip (especially if it is bad news), they are not the group in which you want to confide… since their next news story might be about you! 

Complaining Clarie

Quick to point out all the flaws, Clarie can spot all the ways that something can and will go wrong. Clarie’s glass is always half empty… if not entirely dry. Without fail, CC will always doubt the potential of any plan. She will find every single hole and stumbling block along the path… Not so bad, you say? Maybe not. We all need someone who can be devil’s advocate and plan for the potentiality of failure, but she’s not so forth-coming with the solutions. For CC, it’s not so much the potential, but the eventual, and she is absolutely certain about negative outcome. Clarie also likes to complain about her situation, the behavior of others, and the general condition of her surroundings, but she is completely uninterested in the contributed solutions of friends, colleagues, or family, Offered options are often met with “Yeah… but…” It’s like she doesn’t want anything to improve… she just wants to bitch about it. Finding the failure and pain points is all well and good Clarie, but how do you suggest we fix it?!?

Gloomy Gus

Bless his heart. He’s the workplace version of Eeyore. Not so bad a character, but after a while, hearing about how everything is going to go to hell in  handbasket can get a little rough on the ears. Everything is always horrible, and Gus never has anything good to report. Whether it is his work performance or his physical aches and pains, he will regale any unfortunate listener with all the depressing details. I don’t know that Gus is just deliberately trying to sabotage a positive workplace, but he’s enough to suck the life out of everyone around him. Much like CC, Gus isn’t interested in your advice for how he might alter his own circumstances. He prefers to wallow in his own misery… and he wants to share that misery with company. He’s his own worst enemy, and he can’t figure out why no one wants to go on break with him.

Solution Sally (Marginal Member of the Negativity Collective)

She’s the antithesis to Clarie and all her complaints. Sally is always telling you how to do it better… But that isn’t such a bad thing to have a person who is always looking for the way to fix things, is it? Sally isn’t so bad, most of the time. Where our solution-seeking gal (or guy) becomes a potentially less than positive influence is when there isn’t anything that needs fixing. You know the saying, “If it ain’t broke…” Well, our gal Sal doesn’t even notice that things are working, she always sees a different way, though not always better, and she’s quick to jump in and tell you how her way is the best way, even when no one asked. We love solutions, Sally, but listening is an important skill to embrace before trying to fix something that isn’t broken.

Hanging around with these people too much can lead you to a convalescence in the Bitter Barn. Trust me, you do not want a permanent bunk in there. The accommodations are pretty poor and comfort levels are abysmal. Of course, that is how the regulars like it… always something to complain about, right?

The truth is that sometimes it is really hard to stay positive. When things are stressful and just not going your way, the simplest thing in the world is to dive into  morose sense of the futility… and of course bitch about it. We’ve all done it (except for PPP… and she’s just a little too chipper for everyone). There are just times when the day… or week… maybe year… just sucks. We get down. We get cranky. Sometimes, we get angry. It’s ok. Those are human emotions and natural responses to aversive stimuli and unpleasant situations. It’s not fun or enjoyable, and I think most people would find it completely acceptable for any normal human being to have those emotional responses. It’s also quite natural to vent and share our displeasure verbally. However, there is a time and place for everything… and a limit.

Negativity is one of those things that has a contradictory nature of sharing. For some negative impact issues, bottling up our emotional responses can create something like an affective abscess that bursts at inconvenient times or stews and simmers to grow into other problems down the road. On the other hand, venting can sometimes be a self-feeding spiral that just drags the person sharing into a more and more negative mood… not to mention either coloring the mood of listeners or just alienating everyone (remember what I said about the contagion factor). It’s a fine line.

So, when is it ok? And when is enough… enough? First of all, remember your environment and your audience. While honesty is generally the best policy, lambasting the boss in front of other leadership personnel may not be the best strategy for continued employment. Additionally, while everyone understands the occasional dissatisfaction inspired complaint, a continual diatribe without any contributing solutions may not be appreciated in work or social settings. Watercooler talk or an afterwork social gathering is always subject to the occasional griping, but no one wants to hear constant negativity.

How can you tell if you are becoming one of the negativity tribe? One key factor that can clue you into the “enough is enough” point is when the venting doesn’t make you feel any better. We’ve all had those moments where faced with a frustrating or infuriating set of circumstances, we just want to fly loose with “!@#(&%)!@$~@#!”  In the normal course of events, your friend, partner, or sympathetic coworker responds with, “Feel better now?” and if done correctly, the answer should be, “Yes.” That is venting. It lets off the steam that had built up to explosive levels. Once the pressure has been released, it clears the system for more productive focus. The danger of chronic or constant venting is that there is no cathartic feeling of “Aaaah that feels a little better after saying it.” With the continued diatribe or spewing of vindictive spleen, the spewer and the spewee just feel worse and worse with each instance… and each passing moment. Sometimes this conversation can degenerate into one-upmanship or “you think that’s bad?” and from there it’s is race to see who can be the most negative. This is a pretty good indication that venting is not therapeutic or helpful any longer.

So what to do? Suppressing emotions just because they are not the happy peppy ones isn’t healthy, but feeding the darker emotions with continual negative energy isn’t good either. Having someone who is safe to process stuff with is a treasure. Don’t abuse them. Make sure that if a friend, partner, or trusted coworker is willing to listen that you give them the same courtesy and do not monopolize that avenue of communication. Also, how do you know that you are talking to Nelly, Clarie, or Gus… if you consistently feel drained and exhausted after every interaction, it’s probably one of these folks from the Bitter Barn. Best defense is changing subjects, but when all else fails, walk away. Use your own energy to fuel something more positive instead of letting it be drained away by the perpetually negative.

Stay encouraged and curious, folks, and stay out of the Bitter Barn!