How To Handle Workplace Negativity?

Question: How can one deal with negative and insecure gossipmonger colleagues?

Answer: One way is to engage but steer them in another direction, towards making them think of proactive solutions for the issues at hand. E.g. ask, ‘So, what do you think you should do?’ or ‘So, how can we help them (realise this), to solve the problem?’ This will make the conversation less destructive and more constructive. Sound like a broken record if needed, using different words at times, using the same ones occasionally, to bring the conversation back to what is useful. Of course, when the topic is on something clearly untrue, explain why this is so, objectively and calmly. When others lose their powers of reason, you can be the voice of reason, without being pushy.

Question: What if one is in the same team and do not wish to be ostracised? Especially since the colleague and superior are on very close terms. The higher management seems uninterested.

Answer: Many do not really want to solve the problems they keep yakking over. But it still makes sense to urge them to go for solutions, to help them realise this is only sensible, again, without being pushy. Do it with a kindly smile. Prompt questions for personal reflection. Suggest solutions to transform their attitudes, if they are unwilling to do anything else in terms of confrontation for clarifications.

Question: What if one’s appraisal might be affected, if my conduct is perceived as not their cup of tea due to not participating in their negativity, to be ‘part of their team’ against others?

Answer: One’s responsibility at work is to do one’s work well. Make sure it is done so well that there is no reason to be ostracised for petty matters. Ideally, we should always take the side of what is right, to say and do what is right. But when this harms oneself too much for survival, it is perhaps better to leave the team, department or company before this happens, unless one is comfortable with potentially being sacrificed in various ways. A salary, when there are other options of getting it, is seldom worth excess suffering for. In the mean time, we should not take any side that harms others.

As above, sometimes, it is true that it is better to leave, when the conditions are too negative. In the Buddha’s teachings, this is why we are urged to reach Pure Land, because with his compassionate wisdom, he realised that this Saha World (Samsara here) has too many difficult conditions for most to work towards Buddhahood swiftly, without any discouraging obstacles leading to personal backsliding. Especially if not capable of transforming the very foolish yet, the Buddha too advised to keep away from the ‘company’ (pun intended) of fools. If not, one might become foolish eventually! It is good to do what can at the workplace, to a reasonable extent, so as to stretch the practice of skilful means in addressing the problems mentioned. If leaving, always leave on a high note, so that there will not be looking back in regret.

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