BITE ME: the negative

don't ask why. ask why not.

BITE ME: the negative

Bite Me is a special 12-installment series based on an undercover  stint at a supermarket to draw out lessons on how to better relate to challenging colleagues in the workplace and how to be a better colleague.

These “profiles” are based on real customers who wanted free samples of food.

It’s cheeky and deliciously honest.

These “profiles” are based on real people who wanted free food.

It’s cheeky and deliciously honest.

To read the others:
The Humble
The A-Hole
The Slob


The Negative
don’t just say no

The Personality

The Negative is the office’s Debbie Downer. Rainbows are annoyances and puppies nuisance. The automatic response is “no.”

As I stand behind my cart with a big giant grin on my face, the Negative walks slowly by, almost as if life is so terrible, there is no need to rush to a dead end. I open my mouth and before I can say a word, he scrunches up his nose like he just did number two in his pants and shakes his head. He waves his hand, wishing me away like the nuisance that I am.

Being persistent, I still ask him, “Would you like to try a sample?” I hold out the little toothpick to him, and 9 out of 10 times, he hesitantly reaches for it, as if he is doing me the biggest favor in the world. He looks at, sniffs it, and pops it in his mouth.

If I’m lucky, I watch the transformation begin.

His eyebrows rise. He continues to chew. The corners of his mouth turn down and his head cocks to one side, a look of unexpected surprise. He slowly nods his head in approval, “that is delicious!”

The Negative then gets all friendly. The Negative is not a bad guy; he’s just unhappy and grumpy and getting him to try something new is like giving a child medicine. Even though he walks away a little bit happier than when he approached me, I wonder, what else in life is this guy missing out on?

It’s Not Me, It’s You….

The Negative turns down many opportunities, especially if the opportunity is a bit of the unknown. He is not a mean or malicious person, but a bit of a grump, the naysayer. In meetings, he is the one to first say, “that can’t be done,” and proceed to list all the obstacles that prevent a new idea or improvement from moving forward. He is knowledgeable and the idea-killer.

For leaders of dynamic organizations, the Negative is often the thorn in the side. While having realistic perspectives is important to understand the parameters of possibility, the Negative tends to take this to another level by simply stating outright why it cannot be done without exploring the possibility of how it can be.

Not only is the Negative often not a welcome presence in the boardroom, the Negative also tends to decline opportunities that would otherwise help his own career. He might turn down opportunities for fear of commitment or of failure. A negative attitude can keep the Negative in a rut for years.

When it comes to promotions, leaders are not going to look at the Negative as someone willing to step up, take risks, and grow. Rather, the Negative is seen as someone who is unwilling or unable to become a leader or thinker, and simply not promotable.

Being open to exploration can increase not only professional satisfaction in terms of promotions and visibility in the office as someone willing to try things, but also in terms of keeping the job interesting and new.

  • Pre-empt the skeptic. Explicitly note the risks and inherent negatives and then explain rationally why those critiques can be mitigated.
  • Ignore and proceed. Sometimes the Negative likes being negative just because. No reason. Ignore his complaints and all the reasons why the idea won’t work and proceed accordingly. In time, he will realize either he’s the one falling behind as everyone moves ahead without him.
  • Acknowledge and sweeten. The Negative often just wants his views to be heard. So listen, acknowledge, and be sweet. He might act as if you are Polly Anna, but unless his heart is truly dark, even he will soften knowing you recognized his points and still were kind to hi.

It’s Me…

Carol Dweck’s work explores how some of us have a propensity toward a Growth Mindset, the belief that skills are not fixed and that learning is always an opportunity. Others of us have a fixed mindset where everything is set in stone and we don’t have the capacity to continue growing. We can train ourselves to the former, though it requires a shift away from the ‘no’ to the ‘yes.’

  • Attitude speaks. Being known as the realist in the office is different than being the pessimist. If you tend towards being a pragmatist, leverage that attitude to offer ways of moving an organization or meeting forward while taking into consideration existing limitations. Participate in the growth of an organization while being realistic. Don’t just be the naysayer.
  • Watch your body language. People notice your attitude in how you deliver your words and your physical bearing. Are you scowling? Think about how you carry yourself. Others will be more willing to listen to you when you offer your perspective on why certain restrictions might make an idea to implement if your face and body is open and engaged. It shows that you are truly trying to come up with alternatives, while staying within reality.
  • Explore – don’t just say no. Don’t just say it can’t work without fully exploring the possibilities. Whether that is a new idea or a new opportunity, don’t assume that it just means more work or means that you will be doing something new that you might fail. Consider the opportunity and even if it’s something you’ve never done before. These are the opportunities that may distinguish you from permanent middle management to true leadership.

Negativity is a state of mind – acknowledging potential challenges helps to ensure all viewpoints are heard. Dwelling on the, however, just impedes. Just think: you do want to be “that guy” at the office or office party who no one wants to share things with because they know what you will say first, “no.” You’re no longer in your terrible twos. Try saying, “yes,” or at least, “Let me think about it” first before making an educated and thoughtful response.