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Posted: May 21, 2012

Seven ways to dispense with Debbie Downers

Use these tips to neutralize negativity

Teri Karjala

Any small business professional will run into negative people. You know the type: The glass is half empty, constant doom and gloom, stories of how everyone has wronged them and nothing is fair. Having pessimism present within a small business is similar to a locomotive: The more it gets going and the faster it moves, the more it will run over everything in its path.

I recently found myself at a business networking event and very much in the thick of several business owners. I watched as nearly everyone in the circle ultimately got completely consumed by the pessimist and her viewpoint. It was difficult to witness this person’s negative energy both captivate and repel everyone around her. But as a social society, we often see people join in on the fast train of negativity. In these situations, it is easy to find others to join our pity party, supporting our story of how we were “wronged.”

Although there are times when a little venting is necessary to get a complaint off our chest, it is possible for too much pessimism to damage ourselves, our employees and our business. Rather than continuing to accommodate this negative energy, it becomes necessary to shift attention in a more positive direction.

This is a proactive and very conscious effort. There are lots of pitfalls in most anyone’s workday that can, if allowed, swallow optimistic energy and leave you and your business environment in a funk. But it need not be that way.

Here are suggestions I’ve used — they work! — for managing the pessimism that enters your life and your work environment.

• Establish some healthy boundaries. Be aware of your engagement when you notice a conversation is heading down a negative path.

• Try to stay neutral on controversial subjects.

• If needed, be prepared to politely excuse yourself.

• Limit your contact (if appropriate to do so). If this is an employee or employer this will need to be addressed differently.

• Use the art of persuasion and shift the focus to a more positive light.

• Ignore the negative comments and respond with a more general response.

• Avoid gossip (gossip can quickly lead to problems). Encourage those participating in gossip to focus more on their own situations and less on pointing a finger at someone else.

There’s never a guarantee that the dark days of business ownership will forever be eliminated with sunny skies and perpetual rainbows. But it is possible, when negativity comes creeping into the work environment, to not just mitigate it, but to completely and swiftly nip it in the bud.

Following the outlined steps above will not only encourage a more positive thought flow for yourself and your employees, but will ultimately bring greater benefits (read: profits) to your business.

Teri Karjala is owner of the Creative Counseling Center, LLC, as well as Talking With Teri, LLC. Teri’s passion for the business aspects of owning and maintaining a business has made her a sought out coach by others in the helping fields. She is a regular columnist for ColoradoBiz Magazine and speaks to therapists across the nation in building their thriving practice. Recently she has released her “How to Live Deliciously” Creative Journal Series to help inspire and empower adults, teens, and children. These are available in print at

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Thank you all for the comments! Love hearing your thoughts! By Teri Karjala on 2012 05 30
It is so easy to get caught up in negative conversations and all too often hearing a negative person ruin the mood for others. I thrive on positivity and try to exude that everyday. Your tips are very helpful in making this possible. Thanks Teri! By Kristen Sonsma on 2012 05 23
Overheard at a "positive thought-flow" workplace: "Gawd, Employee X is such a Debbie Downer. We spent all month building this boat out of papier-mâché, and now she's saying we shouldn't get it it and sail away because it's going to fall apart and sink into the ocean." "I know, she started saying that when we were planning the construction. What a pessimist. Good thing our manager changed the topic to something more positive at that point to avoid the controversy." "Totally, that kind of bad attitude won't get you anywhere. Hey, pass me that mop, will ya? The floor of this boat seems to be getting wet..." By Kendra on 2012 05 21
I enjoyed your article! I too have run into Debbie Downer and they are usually hanging out with Tommy Toxic. Its amazing to watch someone network in the mode and think they are going to attract other and business to them. Thanks for sharing your expertise. Liz By liz wendling on 2012 05 21
Wonderful article and well timed since many people are still stuck in the 'there is no business or hiring action negativity mode" and do not see light at the end of the tunnel. By Jeffrey Fischer on 2012 05 21
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