How to Survive a Negative Nellie In the Next Cubicle

By Courtney Clark


Rolling in the door at work on Monday morning can be tough enough. But it’s even tougher when you know you’ll be greeted by a colleague with a poor attitude. When one person at work is always negative about something, that negative mindset can spread through the whole office. Negative Nellies often act like an anchor, dragging the whole office atmosphere down and changing the culture for the worse.


How can you handle a Negative Nellie in your office? It depends on the type of Nellie you’re dealing with. There are three common varieties of Negative Nellie, and unique ways of talking to each one to keep a healthy, thriving workplace attitude.

The Woe-Is-Me Nellie

This is a common workplace Nellie: The colleague who loves to talk about their misfortunes during working hours. These may be workplace gripes, but are often personal life miseries as well. This Nellie is looking for a listening ear for their troubles and doesn’t seem to be willing to take action to change the situations that cause them so much grief.

“Nellie, I understand you are frustrated, but I’m out of ideas to help you make the situation better. I can’t help you solve this problem, and I have to focus on my work right now. I know you understand how important it is to get my work done, so I need to spend the work day doing that.”

Why it Works:
Woe-is-Me Nellies crave connection, so by saying “I know you understand,” you are appealing to their social nature. But the rest of the script makes a clear statement that you can’t be a therapist while on the clock.

The Reluctant Nellie

Employees who’ve been around the organization a long time might turn into Reluctant Nellies. When it comes to change and growth, this Nellie doesn’t understand why we can’t just do it “the way we’ve always done it.”

The Script:
“Nellie, the changes being proposed are going to help us reach the vision we’ve always had for this organization. You probably know better than anyone that we were founded with a goal of accomplishing X, Y, and Z. This leap is going to feel big, but it’s going to allow us the long-term stability we’ve been wanting, which I know is important to you.”

Why it Works:
One of the most effective ways to manage change is to connect to the purpose of the change. When you show a Reluctant Nellie that change is going to have a direct payoff for them (in this case, the stability she wants), it helps her get on board. You can also appeal to her pride in her longevity by telling her “you probably know better than anyone…” about this company.

The Critical Nellie

This Nellie seems to have a complaint about everyone and everything. Whatever the process or project, they has 10 reasons why it won’t work.

“Nellie, I hear your concerns about solution X. It’s time to move on from brainstorming possible hurdles, and start talking about how we implement solutions to those problems. What are your suggestions for working through the potential problems?”

Why it Works:
Research shows that workplace conflict can actually lead to better solutions, so put your Critical Nellies to good use as canaries in the coal mine to help foresee future complications. But remember that Critical Nellies often need redirection to move from criticism to solution. And sometimes it takes more than one reminder, so have fortitude!

Negative Nellies don’t have to drag the whole organization down. Even if you can’t change their behavior, you can change the impact it has on everyone else. With a few strategic comments, you can minimize the negative impact of the Office Nellie, and create a more positive atmosphere for everyone.

Courtney Clark works with people to build accelerated resilience, so they can adapt faster and achieve more. She is the author of two books, “The Successful Struggle,” and “The Giving Prescription.” Courtney is a three-time cancer survivor, a brain aneurysm survivor, keynote speaker, and founder of a nonprofit. Find more at

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