A few weeks ago we profiled the common office character known as the pecker. We detailed how to spot one, how to avoid them, and how to avoid becoming one. This week we bring your attention to another well-known office personality, the Debbie Downer.
It’s important to make yourself aware of the Debbie Downer because this character can spread seriously negative vibes into your working world. The downer can be easily spotted first thing in the morning. They often walk into work late with a telltale scowl and an instant rant regarding their tardiness, and how it was someone or something else’s fault; their spouse, kids, the weather, traffic, health, etc. They will look unkempt, unorganized, and perhaps sniffling from some sort of perpetual cold. The downer looks toward colleagues as a place to dump their sorrows and to seek sympathy. They rarely wish to take any sort of action toward improving their continual state of hard-done-by, and so your thoughtful advice is often a waste of your mental and emotional energy. While it is only natural for people to feel bad for others in any degree of turmoil, and to want to help them, we must be careful not to fall into the downer’s trap. The downer feeds on your reaction, your “oh you poor thing,” and, even more, your subsequent negative mood. Don’t feed the downer.
As young professionals it is an important aspect of our job to get along with colleagues, including ones we may not be so fond of. After identifying the downer in your office, the next step is to learn how, as tactfully as possible, to avoid being stuck at the water cooler absorbing their daily negativity. You don’t want to come off as cold or uncaring, of course, so in order to politely distance yourself from the downer, you must simply acknowledge and run. Brevity is key. You can’t ignore the downer, but you can certainly be too busy to engage in any extensive conversations; after all, you are at work. Downers, like peckers, are people, too, and they deserve a friendly “hello,” perhaps even the occasional “how are you.” But downers can easily be trained to recognize over time that you are not one that will stick around for much more than the required pleasantries. After a few instances of being told “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that” followed by an immediate “Excuse me, I have to get back to work,” you are sure to eventually be freed from their gallery of sympathizers.
Releasing yourself from the downer’s regular audience is key for sustaining your own positive mood, level of productivity, and the quality of your work. The countless minutes you once spent listening intently to the downer’s daily tales of woe can now be spent on work and building more constructive office relationships. You may not have noticed, or made the connection, but if you have found yourself experiencing feelings of dread, sadness, or frustration when walking into work each morning, consider the fact that a downer may be responsible for your negative workplace energy. Further, learning to recognize the signs of a downer, and how to avoid them, will ensure that you don’t become one yourself.