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Heavy Meddle: Invasion Of The Workplace Energy Sucker

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Dear Steve,

I’ll soon be sharing an office with a colleague whose attitude is terrible. I'm worried that it will negatively impact my ability to enjoy my job.

What advice can you offer for dealing with pessimistic people at work?


Positive Pete

Dear PP,

Listen man, I deal with an extremely negative person at work everyday. As a rule, Steve Almond has a terrible attitude. (I can’t imagine that this comes as a surprise to anyone who reads this column.) There are days where I just wanna haul off and slug myself in the throat. The pessimism. The constant grousing. It’s just an incredible energy suck. But rather than punch myself, Pete, what I do is refuse to engage.

And that’s what you need to do. The modern workplace is a complicated little ecosystem, a place where our sense of self-worth and power in the world collide. And as families have become more atomized, co-workers have come to assume much of the psychological and emotional weight of actual relatives. So it’s easy to get caught up in their bullshiz. Or to inflict your shiz on them.

Don’t do it. Politely keep your distance, at least until you’ve figured out who the energy suckers are. If this makes you seem a little aloof or standoffish, so be it. You’re playing the long game here, Pete. Your workplace isn’t a popularity contest. It’s a place where you come to trade your time and energy and talent for a livable wage. It can be more than that. But I’d be wary of such arrangements. All those “cool” workplaces like Google, where they provide free snacks and yoga classes — they’re just like casinos: Rigged to keep people around.

Remember one fact: Your real life exists, or should exist, outside of work, where you’re not an employee in the great capitalist chain gang, but an actual human being.

I’m not saying you should be a joyless curmudgeon. Leave that to a professional, like myself. But I am telling you to remember one fact: Your real life exists, or should exist, outside of work, where you’re not an employee in the great capitalist chain gang, but an actual human being. The less invested you are in office politics, the more you can focus on doing your job, rather than worrying about the crappy attitudes of your fellow wage slaves.

My own experience working in offices as a negative person confirms this. I was constantly trolling for colleagues who would participate in my feuds and grievances, who would provide a sympathetic ear for my whining. It was the ones who gave me no traction — who smiled politely and returned to their work, who had actual lives outside the office — that stymied me.

Now: If the negative people at work are unavoidable — if they’re, for instance, your boss, or someone you’re expected to collaborate with — that’s much more complicated. In those cases, you’ll have to work much harder to avoid nonsense. But the same basic rule applies: Give them no traction. You’re there to work, not to socialize. At least not with people who bring you down.

Of course, if things get really bad you can always quit and come work for me, Pete. I’ve got an entry-level position in the Department of Listening-to-Steve-Bitch-About-His-Editors. The pay’s not great, but I do offer snacks. ♥

Editor's Note: Check back on Wednesday for another installment of Heavy Meddle. In the meantime, what about you? Need any advice? Are you struggling with an existential crisis? An etiquette issue? Mild forms of social self-recrimination? Steve "Heavy Meddle" Almond can help. Unburden yourself. Email us.

This program aired on July 8, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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