IT Employment

Do you just hate everything?

Chronic negativity can be a career killer. Here are some ways to know if you're a chronic complainer and what you can do about it.

Years ago, there was a commercial for Life cereal in which two little boys push a bowl of cereal over to their little brother to see if it tastes good. "Let's get Mikey. He hates everything," they say. The little brother is adorable and it's a cute little ad spot.

But when an adult is known for "hating everything," it's not so cute, especially in the workplace.  Some people confuse negativity with superior intelligence, as in "I am cognitively able to find the hole in every plan."

If you think having a problem with everything presents you in a smarter, more discriminating light, you would be wrong.  Unless, of course, with every problem you find, you have a solution. But it usually doesn't work that way.

Negative people get in a groove (or a rut, if you will) and automatically "go negative" in any situation. The human brain can become addicted to negativity and when they criticize something it gives them a "fix."

I would never advocate becoming a pinwheels-for-eyes Mirth Machine (or this guy), but it's much better for your well-being (and your career) if you strike a happy medium. And if you are a pessimist at heart, that's fine. I'm not here to change your world outlook. But I can offer you a few tips for curbing your negative behavior in the workplace:

Hold your tongue first. Rather than just blurting out what you feel (or rolling your eyes, or sighing as if you have the weight of all the world's stupid people on your shoulder), take a moment to be aware of what you're actually feeling.

Try to get out of the habit. The fact is, you see more of what you notice. Have you ever learned a new term and then it seems like people are using it everywhere you turn? They're not-it's just that it's what you are noticing more. If you focus on people's faults, you will find even more of them. Become self-aware. It's hard to be objective about yourself. Ask your spouse or a close friend for candid feedback. Assess your needs. What are you trying to accomplish by complaining? Are you legitimately trying to make a process better or are you just trying to make a process look bad? Decide to change. Complaining is a habit. If you're aware of what you're doing, it will be easier to stop the negativity before it makes itself known in a meeting or in a group project.

If you consciously work at it, you can become known as the person people can come to to get honest feedback, both good and bad. And that's a great quality.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

57 comments
Chief-Tiff
Chief-Tiff

My colleague pointed out that I was being seen as a negative person; to the point the boss may be considering keeping me part of the team. It was because I was pointing out the 'obvious' flaws in the proposed solutions. Once I had the insight that my method of delivery was flawed, I changed to show I was 'on board' and THEN found subtle ways of bringing in questions about the project. It seemed to work and was a lot more constructive.

Wayne Heading
Wayne Heading

The emphasis here of course is on hating everything. Being critical of bad decisions and bad choices, like using MS Access for a business solution or heavy artillery in muddy conditions, isn't necessarily being negative. Playing devils advocate in a group decision making process can be a good way to ensure the problem and potential solution has been properly thought through. Of course there will always be those people who dont appreciate any kind of non-positive input. Playing devil's advocate in every instance and voicing only the negative is something which should be avoided. When asked what is my biggest challenge at work, my response is always 'being positive in a negative environment'. As the IT Janitor no one calls me when things are going fine, and when building solutions as part of a large diverse team I frequently encounter inexperience and a shallow depth of knowledge (and sometimes its me). It's hard to remain positive when the people who seek my help and input frequently use that interaction as an opportunity to complain about the difficult task theyve been set, their lousy job, and their lousy boss. It would be so very easy to get caught up in that negative spiral and not even notice that seeing and communicating a negative response has become your default response to everything.

alawishis
alawishis

He's not saying suppress negative feedback, that is as important as any including positive feedback, that is as long as it is constructive. The point is if you are "habitually" negative in a non constructive way. The phrase that really defines it is, "Some people confuse negativity with superior intelligence, as in 'I am cognitively able to find the hole in every plan.'" We all know someone like that. If you find yourself not able to be positive about anything then perhaps you are one too. If you are a professional often time it's part of your job to find the downside in an endeavour. If you do that to make things better then you are doing your job, if you are doing it to tear things down your not.

LarsDennert
LarsDennert

Lawyers, for instance make poor business people. They always see the problems and can never judge the risk.

cfc2000
cfc2000

A long time ago here in England, as a junior manager in a social work team, I was told to go and interview a man called Frank Beck, a senior manager for Leicestershire Social Services. His charisma and effective use of IT to get good outcomes was legendary. When I met him he made my flesh creep. My manager told me I was a "negative thinker". I moved on to better thing, but I can't say I was really surprised when Frank Beck received several life sentences for serial child sex abuse. He died in prison, no doubt with some idiots still saying how "charismatic" he was. The recent events with Sir Jimmy Savile reminded me of this. Not all negative thinking is bad. Sometimes positive thinking is just another phrase for "appallingly naive thinking". I find if I feel negative about something, there's usually a reason for it. EG I advised against the expenditure of 3 billion pounds on an integrated but untried computer system for the NHS and Social Services here in the UK. I was over-ruled, but just look at what happened to that, you poor sucker taxpayers! I say let's have a bit more negative thinking. Sometimes positive thinking is like Neville Chamberlain (Prime Minister before WW2) telling Britain in 1938 that he had a solemn promise from Herr Hitler. Now there was a positive thinker...!

g434murray
g434murray

more palatable and possibly creates a discussion. End result is the same, the people involved are made aware of a possible negative aspect, but no one is pushing it.

Dukhalion
Dukhalion

It's actually my job to find faults in anything and everything at our workplace. And if given the opportunity I usually fix them too. I love my job, because I can make my coworkers happier with a better working environment everyday.

zimmerwoman
zimmerwoman

I always try to look at someone as a personality. I work with a woman who is very smart, but she never has much besides negative criticism of anyone else or of any work-product of anyone else. I call her and her ilk "Eeyores". Always looking at their comparatively rich lot in life and seeing not what they have, but what they don't have. Or seeing the work-product not in its entirety and what needs improvement, but seeing instead only its flaws and therefore not providing suggestions for improvement, or even the admission they don't have a suggestion, but they have a concern. Eeyores, my friends. They do have something to contribute but since they look at the world through the lens of their fecal-myopathy, everything looks like crap. I find them mostly very self-absorbed and they aren't really that pleasant to work with. Given the choice between two equally well qualified persons, I will take the positive person. But, given the choice between an Eeyore who knows their technical area well and someone nice who isn't as knowledgeable, I as a project leader, will take the Eeyore and work hard to overcome the crap-vision. There's a really good article about bad apples at this link: http://www.freireproject.org/blogs/it-turns-out-one-bad-apple-can-spoil-bunch

tech
tech

I am the sole 'IT' person. I have spent years learning the processes and work flows of everyone in the workplace (about 75 people in three locations). I have designed most of the systems, and know all the software, hardware... inside and out. I have been called Mr. Negative, many times, though I don't think I am negative at all. I always listen to a proposed new process, or a can we... I nearly always answer the same way: "Let me chew on it a while." Very often, the answer is we can't do 'A' because it will be detrimental to 'X', 'Y' and 'Z'. Sometimes, the answer is if we do 'A' it will affect 'X' and we will have to change 'Y' too. My goal is to help the owners of the business to make money. Often times one person would like to make a change that would shift work to someone else. I need to make certain the owners are aware that a given change may mean they need to hire new staff or shuffle duties. More recently the owner came to me and said we are going to do X. I told him we could not do it the way he proposed. He told me I was being negative, and that it was no problem. We are now more than 2 months into the project (which is a disaster) and he finally met with a pro accounting firm which basically confirmed everything I told him and said scrape it and start over. Moral of the story, sometime there is a reason to be negative. The fact that I was candid probably saved my job.

TheRicker54
TheRicker54

This article describes my feelings/emotions about my work to a "T"...at least how I've felt over the last two months. It seems that every little things gets on my nerves. I've been in the workplace for over 33 years. I am very aware that I'm complaining about a lot of stuff. I've done much better this week. So, reading this article was quite timely for me. However, in my opinion, the author really didn't address "real" solutions to the problem. Telling someone to "Try to get out of the habit" is like telling an alcoholic they should "try" to give up drinking. That's a drastic analogy but I think it holds true. I'm very aware of my current state and I've decided I want to change. It would help if there were somewhat of a roadmap of concrete tasks to practice or execute.

garyleroy
garyleroy

I have a lot better things to do than worry if I complain too much. This whole question just ticks me off...and so does Duke.

Carlos.Barajas1
Carlos.Barajas1

Well, being a project leader not really hate, but sometimes there are a lot of negative stuff going around, well turn the negative as challenge and where to see failure possibilities and mitigate, also oportunities of impromement can surface (where myself I need to develop more-communications, patience- also advise to other workmate which softskill can be improved. And the last one, facing challenges in a very negative enviroment will turn you in a very spritual man- and getting you closer to GOD

StirlingLass
StirlingLass

Critical analysis and providing recommendations does not need to be negative. I see this every day -- engineers being emotional and negative. I recommend people keep their emotions out of it. You listen, you recommend, you support your position, and if the powers above you make a choice contrary to what your analysis determines is the best option, you calmly provide (and document in email or meeting minutes) the consequences of that choice. If the doors are closed and the decision locked in, recognize that you provided your recommendation, and now your job is to support the team, the company, in the implementation of the chosen path. That is professionalism. If persistently executives make the wrong choices and persistently your documented recommendations and consequences have proven right, you will either be more closely listened to in the future, or this is a company that is not properly using a valuable, proven resource and it is time to find other employment.

Marcus55901
Marcus55901

I've observed that IT groups often have a "circle the wagons" attitude towards the rest of their enterprise. As seen in many of the comments on this article and others, there is a wariness and even distrust between IT and its customers. Perhaps it is time to decentralize IT. Stop trying to enforce monolithic standards and control over tools and processes, and start cooperating with the customer; maybe even "living" in the customer's department. In other words, ditch the "us" vs "them" attitudes. It's not that individual developers should lower their standards, but they should apply them with discretion. If IT departments managed law enforcement, they would start by ticketing ALL traffic infractions, then, when that proved too unpopular and costly, they would outlaw cars, bikes and pedestrians and force everyone onto buses.

starr.cruise
starr.cruise

From some of the comments, which were valid, I got the impression we did not get the gist of what Toni was saying. I heard her stating specifically, take a good look at yourself. It's easy to slip into habitual negativity and never know it. I know, I had to change some things in my life. It is not about legitimate reasons, as stated above. I don't think the above examples demonstrate habitual negativity. But I think what is REALLY being missed is, taking a moment to check how you're "feeling" about the "negative" point you're about to make. It is about the "energy" behind it, more than if it is legitimate or not. Are your intentions of pointing out a potential problem to help the project be a success, or because you want to be right, look good, put a damper on someone's idea? I think Toni's article goes way beyond the workplace, and equates to a formula to live life. It's not about being Pollyanna, it's about, what do you want the outcome to be? Do you want success? Success may equate, as in Marc's example, as stating that you are unwilling to do what a client is asking you to do, as illegal is outside your integrity. So you lose the client? do you really want that kind of client? Okay, so how do you pay the bills? If that is what makes the final decision, then your values are conditional, and therefore not values at all. And that is not a successful outcome. What if they want to do stupid? It is not your job to save the stupid from their stupidity. Let them learn it their way. CYA? Document your response of why you disagree and potential outcome, and then do it their way, or get another job that is more conducive to your values. I applaud Toni's article, because in the end, it is not what others are doing, but who we are choosing to be in the midst of it. Pointing out the cons along with the pros is balanced. Constanstly pointing out the cons with no solutions, is not. My two cents for the day :-)

cybershooters
cybershooters

...the IT dept is usually the one place where bullshit meets reality, because the executive people come up with some sort of flawed idea, they're surrounded by yes men who agree with them, then it filters down to IT who have to point out all the problems with it. So IT gets the reputation of being the dept. of "no" but usually for a good reason.

Not~SpamR
Not~SpamR

I once got branded overly negative after my input at a few successive meetings. One group of users (who weren't knowledgeable about IT in any way other than knowing enough to be dangerous) had got into the habit of presenting detailed technical solutions to all and sundry and then asking me (the IT guy) if they would work. What triggered their complaint was when I told them in the meeting that it was certainly possible to code what they had described but since they hadn't described the business problem they were trying to fix there was no way I could tell whether coding them would help or hinder their goals. As people have already said identifying the problem is the first step to solving it. To ignore the flagging of a problem because a solution hasn't been identified, yet, will inevitably result in hitting the same problem later when it's harder to solve.

goodoldfriend
goodoldfriend

Toni, As a refoming negativaholic, I agree with the tone of what you are saying. I understand that you are not talking about specific drawbacks of a project, situation, or person; but one's overall outlook. Thank you for putting words to something that one may have to consider about one's self.

macmanjim
macmanjim

We;ve become so BS oriented in our society that we don't want to hear bad news. Those people you call overly negative may be the types that deconstruct everything naturally. Sure you wouldn't put them in sales, but in the connect role they are indispensable. Trying to convert every introvert into an extroverted glad handling smiling JA is ridiculous, but something I've seen in the last few years: It's a concerted effort to destroy the geek. Not everyone is a politician or wants to be one. May be if we had more nitpickers, accidents with the space shuttles wouldn't have happened as a case in point.

chris.leeworthy
chris.leeworthy

I've worked with an engineer who's negative attitude really caused problems, not least because many of his "it can't be done" statements were not true. In one case we'd built a SAP installation server to roll out the client to around 3000 users. This engineer asked how we were going to do the roll out so I told him. His immediate response was "that doesn't work" which was pretty odd because by that time we'd already done our first 100 installations using it. The other thing that was especially trying about him was he would always bring problems, but never any suggestions for solutions, work arounds or alternatives. He'd just label something as unsolveable and then drop it at your feet like a cat delivering a dead bird. Worse still he seemed to derive pleasure from the process. There aren't always solutions to particular problems but if you can show you've looked into them and considered alternatives or work arounds it shows a more positive approach. I don't want yes people on the team but I do want people who don't simply stop when they find a problem. Taking the excel or access data warehouse problem as an example which would you prefer to see? 1. It can't be done 2. It can't be done with excel or access but you might want to consider these alternatives I know I'd certainly prefer option 2.

GrizzledGeezer
GrizzledGeezer

...then find another job. I'm a /very/ negative person, but I've had jobs where this wasn't a problem, because the people I worked with -- including my managers -- were focused on doing good work. People are often "negative" because they feel no one is listening to them or cares about their point of view. When employees are treated respectfully, as professionals who have something to offer, they have little reason to be negative.

neil.postlethwaite
neil.postlethwaite

I think you are forgetting the Negative nancy types are commonly back-filling into projects to stop them train-wrecking due to Incompetence - running project you don;t understand, not engaging stakeholders early enough to avoid making disastrous decisions and consequences for unfunded major remedial action later on. See almost any government IT project across the world for case studies here. Project Management by Wishful Thinking, rarely delivers.

CherIT
CherIT

This is me to a T! Will be taking your advice!

andrew232006
andrew232006

I think companies are lucky to have these negative people to balance out all the people who think computers are magic or believe in 'the power of positive thinking'. Often problems are easier to find than solutions. Sometimes the answer is that there isn't a solution. But a problem is going to be a problem weather someone mentions it now so everyone can look for a solution or when it turns up later and kills a project after many wasted hours or causes a security breech or some other catastrophe. But I fear the article may be right about it affecting their job prospects. We may end up with IT departments filled with or run by yes men.

Marc Jellinek
Marc Jellinek

When a manager tells you (not asks you) to build a data warehouse in Access or Excel; because Microsoft positions both products as part of their business intelligence stack? When a customer or stakeholder asks you to dump private/closely held data onto a hard drive and mail it to a business partner? (hint: in regulated industries, that's illegal) When an executive says "we know that it's flawed, but it'll do for now". Notice how the "we" disappears when there is a middle-of-the-night issue and *I'm* the one in the office fixing it. One can quote "best practices", whitepapers, reference material and law until you are blue in the face. They aren't solutions. The secret to telling people that someone won't work isn't to have a solution (Excel will never be an appropriate platform for a data warehouse), it's having the respect and confidence of your co-workers and the backing of your management. If you have neither, there is no solution (you can't fix stupid). Post your resume and go where you will be listened to.

2whlgeezer
2whlgeezer

I normally don't go negative until after the first #$%^&* trouble request (demand) of the morning, usually around 8:05.

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

I like the article's emphasis on your own personal behavior. Is it getting to be always negative? (Perhaps because of the nature of the job). I come across as negative to most folks outside our group. But to folks inside our group, I'm the one who points out problems AND solutions. If you think your brand-new never-before-examined idea is totally wonderful, then we'll have no problem implementing it. If there are issues, we'll have more problems implementing the later in the process we discover those problems. The reason folks outside my group view me as a Negative Nellie is because my _first_ question is always about the user expectations--why do you think this process or the new data will actually solve the stated problem? Most folks can't even clearly state the problem they are trying to solve. But they've by God got a fer sure solution and anyone who isn't on board is just being negative. That's how I get my reputation, by trying to get managers to focus on clearly defining problems before focusing on solutions.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

It's all about perception, some people don't see any criticism as constructive. In fact most don't if they are honest, including us negative types. :p For instance he's a she..

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

positive thinker = paedo ? Even I wouldn't go that far... :p If anyone marks you down, it wasn't me.

andrew232006
andrew232006

I know someone who used to be a really heavy drinker. He spent most of his free time at the bar. He went to the doctor one day about liver and other test results. The doctor told him if he kept drinking he would die. The doctor asked him if he needed any help quiting and he said no. He quit drinking and many of his favourite foods then and there and hasn't had a drink in over 8 years.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Instead of laying into you for proselytizing, I'm going to suggest you work on your focus. Whether you stay a PM or become a preacher is up to you, but pick one.

Fairbs
Fairbs

It appears to me that centralization has been the prevailing trend for the last 15-20 years or so due to the positive impact on the bottom line. The 'living in the Customer's department' complaint is eased by things like project management, agile development, and business analysts. This stuff isn't new and there isn't a magic bullet.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

You must be new. For there to be and Us and Them, there has also to be a Them and Us. Management are just as keen about maintaining the divide as the most recalcitrant propeller head. With no control IT cannot fulfill the role assigned to it by the business, well not without significant risk and expense anyway. If IT people were as integrated into the business as the services they provide, you'd know that.

andrew232006
andrew232006

I would ticket all traffic infractions. But then I would adjust the rules to something enforcible. I don't see the point in traffic laws, or any laws, if they don't apply to all civilians all the time. They just become a tool for police to discriminate against people they don't like for any unreasonable reason.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I like being left no choice but to be even less. I keep trying. You tell me what you want, I'll tell you how it could be done. You tell me how it will be done, I'll tell you how many flaws there are in it. "Your choice"

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Course when you challenge those alternatives, as they almost certainly involve a significant expense. I'll have to explain why excel or access are not sound tech choices, and I'll have to do it in a way that salves "your" ego. Well maybe not yours, but many managers would have a real problem with even an extremely polite version of "You don't know what you are talking about". In fact they'd see it as negative.

bastionpoint
bastionpoint

The manager/executive isn't stupid, they simply need to be shown an alternative. If there really are none, then you can gripe. Your responsibility as a supposedly knowledgable IT employee is to find other ways to accomplish the goals using methods and practices that are acceptable. The last time I checked SQLExpress and MySQL are free, and there is open source encryption software. I'd hate to work with or employ someone that can only say why something can't work and has no answers as to how to work around the problem. IT people are supposed to be problem solvers not problem creators.

dmn2012
dmn2012

I have seen this type of insanity as described - Marc Jenllinek I had been at this company for 2 months, and was requested to meet with a manager from another department regarding a project. In short, the project scope that was offered by this manager was ,"I am not sure; you are the developer you can figure out." My reply was that I will come up with some ideas, and I went back to my office, and immediately began to update my resume. There is no reasonable solution working in conditions that are not grounded in reality.

Marcus55901
Marcus55901

No, I've been doing this 30 years or so. What I've observed over the years is that IT often motivates business units to initiate their own stealth projects as a way of bypassing the expensive and inflexible IT bureaucracy. If IT was decentralized, it would allow for gold-plated bullet-proof solutions at the center and customer and budget friendly apps around the edges. I don't think management consciously seeks to perpetuate the divide, it is simply a cultural norm that is hard to shake. If you were someone who satisfied the customer instead of saying "no", you'd know that ;-)

chris.leeworthy
chris.leeworthy

The challenge is to pursuade them gently that your alternative was their idea all along! More seriously it is a challenge sometimes to get customers to talk about what the want a system to do rather than how it will do it. By the way it's nice to hear from you Tony, I hope life is treating you well since the Corus days :-)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Implement a data warehouse Implement a data warehouse in Excel or Access If the goal is a data warehouse then us supoosedly knowledgeable types can provide a set of alternatives, given some resource they can even have some real numbers attached to them. Implement one in Excel, is a probelm created by an idiot with no solution any one claiming to be competent could resolve. It's the equivalent of saying I want to create a road bridge out of tissue paper. So this where the confusion between negativity and realism creeps in. Can you as manager accept some propeller head "subordinate" telling "you" that your idea is dumb, or one that exposes "your" enormous ignorance? You I don't know about, people who view challenges to their ideas asa personal attack, well we've all had dealings with those haven't we? Oh and managers are employees too.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I've been through 7 or 8 centralisations, every one of them sponsored by the business. They weren't done to improve the IT, they were done to make costs savings. So they'd gone down the route you suggest and to avoid the problems you describe. But people and kit naturally proliferate in such an environment. Because there is no central control, solutions are targeted against local needs, not those of the overall business. To me there's no real difference between say some guys setting up a data island, because they can't get resource from central, to the local IT unit going off on one and implementing some thing non-standard, except for scale. Centralisation / de-centralisation is a reaction to a symptom. The only guarantee from either is that the next big management idea is to reverse it. Oh, and I'm not allowed to satisfy the customer, I've just been centralised. :D

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

tact and tactics, though I'm better than I was. Still given my old approach was to question both their IQ and their parentage, that wasn't that much of an effort. :D Hows life at the old place?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

See expect it to do this, we expect it to be available by when and we expect not to have to spend more than X. Now us propeller heads can come up with a set of options within the current constraints. If you've employed competent people (if you are employing incompetents then nothing you can do is going to matter), you will get a set of achievable options with costs and benefits, and then the most viable one can be chosen. Any negativity will be limited to within the IT team itself, and should be addressed there. All the major constraints and expectations have been set and are to the best of everyone's knowledge at the time, sane and therefor achievable. What we keep doing and I do mean we (not them or us) is getting it bass ackwards. Constraints and expectations are set, important people invest their reputations in the result. Then when you challenge the idea, they will take it as an attack. They have no choice, no manouevering room. it's too big to not to succeed. Standard corporate (and government) practice kicks in, failure gets dressed as success and in a completely unrelated event a couple of little guys who who foolishly keep insist on saying we was right, are let go because they are a bit negative, Everybody around them sees this happen, just because they aren't managers it doesn't mean they are stupid, so they don't rock the boat. So despite all the claims about not wanting sycophants, they engineer an environment where it's a good career move...

Fairbs
Fairbs

The more the manager details the problem and the less the manager details the solution, the better off IT and the business unit will be. Getting managers to understand this is a big problem especially with technology being so prevalent and everyone thinking they are a tech expert. Along similar lines... https://twitter.com/shitmydadsays/status/5427015317