Managing a Pessimistic Team Member

By definition, a pessimist is a person who habitually sees or anticipates the worst or is disposed to be gloomy. They’re more likely to see the glass “half empty” rather than “half full.” The saying goes, “You are only as strong as your weakest link.” A company can be at it’s best– thriving in the competitive world of business, but are all players on board? A negative employee is like a virus in the workplace that will only slow down productivity and spread negative energy to the rest of the workers. So what is the solution when dealing with someone who is just not in a growth-orientated mindset?

Cut them some slack. Before rushing to HR, take in a little perspective. It might just be they take the Garfield approach to Mondays.  Or maybe it’s just that occasional stressful day and they could use a cup of coffee. Whatever the reason, the first step to dealing with someone pessimistic is to understand where they are coming from. Usually, insight leads to a better understanding. Figuring out the root of your team member’s doom and gloom can begin the process of changing their outlook.

Address the problem. Pull that team member aside and let them know how their communication is coming across to the rest of the office. It is important to stay positive and constructive when talking to a team member. Come from a place of feedback, rather than ‘attacking’ or ‘confronting’ the pessimistic co-worker. Addressing the problem in a group environment could also help not only the co-worker, but in inspiring change from all employees. Do not single someone out in front of other co-workers, but rather talk in a group about problems around the office and how employees can work collaboratively towards solutions. If you’re unsure about the situation, group wisdom is a great place to turn.

Re-evaluate your team. Exhausted your resources?  It’s probably time to consider removing that person from your team, especially if their attitude affects their work and/or other employees.  This is a reality, and as a leader, you should know when there is nothing else to do but change the dynamics of your team. This should be a final option and carefully thought out. Not everyone is a fit for your team, or someone’s values might change over time. The workplace should be a space to spark creativity, innovation.

As a final thought, here are some helpful tips to remember from the Harvard Business Review:


  • Find the source of pessimism
  • Differentiate between the person and the behavior
  • Involve the whole team in setting norms for team behavior


  • Single someone out in front of a group
  • Allow negative comments to go unaddressed
  • Assume all pessimism is unproductive

For more management tips follow us on Twitter @CareerPlug

Justin Zuniga is CareerPlug’s sales and marketing intern.  

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