I love talking about leadership skills and communication styles, and as a leadership speaker, I recently had the chance to be a guest on the Laid Off Life podcast. Here’s part two of the transcript, and please forgive the grammatical errors and odd wording! (When you see your spoken words on paper…you realize just how many filler words and broken sentences you use in real life! See part one of the transcript here.)

Jigna: So let’s dive in on some of those specific personality types that are in the office.

The first one I have on my list is the Negative Nancy. No matter what topic of conversation, Nancy will find a Negative thing to say about it. We all know a Negative Nancy and some of us have been Nancy once in a while, not all the time, but in our lifetime. So tell us a little bit about Negative Nancy.

Meme from the movie Wedding Crashers with caption, "Oh, please don't take a turn to negative town."

What we all think when we run into Negative Nancy at work…

Courtney: When it comes to Negative Nancy or any personality type we’re about to discuss, I like to first think about the communication style quadrants. In which quadrant do I think they land?

Are they more direct, are they more inspirational and spirited, are they more steady and considerate, are they more conscientious and systematic? Even though they might be Negative, Nancy can fall into any one of those four quadrants.



Jennifer: (Laughing) If a Negative Nancy is spirited, she’s like, “Alright guys, it’s another bad day!”

Jigna: Excited about being negative!

Courtney: A spirited Negative Nancy might get to the office, and she’s like “Oh my gosh you guys, I had the worst drive to work today. It was flooding everywhere, and then my coffee spilled on me…and then I got all wet getting out of my car…”

I always think about what category is this person falling into first, because that helps me flex my communication style. A Negative Nancy can fall into any communication style category.

So, another thing I always like to think about is what role I am playing in this, because the Negative Nancies of the world need an ear to complain to…

Sometimes we are that ear, and we let it go longer than it should. We don’t find a way to excuse ourselves, and I bet it’s not working for you.

And it shouldn’t, be because let me tell you, the Negative Nancies rub off on people. I remember back in my first job at Neiman’s, I worked in a very small office and the person that I worked really closely with was fantastic and I loved her. But she was very negative, and six months into my role, I hated that place. You got to be really conscientious and guard yourself when it comes to Negative Nancies.

So think through what role are you playing, and if you can kind of step away from this person. It might be something as simple as “Oh my gosh! Nancy, I’m sorry you had a bad drive to work today but I have a call in five minutes. I got to go prepare for my call”.

Jennifer: It’s probably easier to avoid them right? Blame it on other things, like “Oh I’m so sorry. I’ve been on another conference call.” Right?

Courtney: Yeah, absolutely. Now it’s a little tougher when you have a Negative Nancy and you’re the person’s leader. (No one teaches a leadership skills class on dealing with her!)

To me, that’s where we’ve got to start really thinking it through. As a leader, I’m going to start asking more questions, especially if Nancy is complaining about clients or complaining about other co-workers. I’d ask her to start getting specific for me, basically try to help her problem solve. I need to find out if this is just someone griping and venting, or if this is a real problem that I, as a leader, now needs to help her solve.

Jigna: Right.

Jennifer: Absolutely. I think that’s a great point. As I mentioned earlier, as a leader, I’ve learned over time to ask, “What’s really going on here?” I can’t be your best bud, and I need to know if this is a real problem or not!

Jigna: Yeah, I don’t think you can avoid a Negative Nancy in an office setting or one in the family.

Jennifer: It’s just not a female either. It could be a Negative…

Jigna: Nicholas?

Jennifer: Nicolas, thank you. I was trying to think of a male name with an “N.”

Jigna: It’s all alliterations going forward, but if they’re going to exist, and you’re their manager, how do you sort of manage that situation?

You hear stories, whether it’s your co-workers or your friends, around how they’ve dealt with Negative Nancies.

I remember one saying one of their approaches was literally just to avoid them saying. If you’re working from home, it’s much easier. And some of them who had that direct communication style, they actually just asked that person, “Hey, Negative Nancy. What’s going to make you happy?”

The Negative Nancies generally don’t know what’s going to make them happy. I’m not sure if that’s a good approach or not, but I want to pose that question to you Courtney.

Courtney: I think direct conversations are one of my favorite things to talk about. As a leadership skills speaker, I love giving any sort of breakout session or keynote on tough conversations because I think, especially in the workplace, we avoid them. I like to call it “snoozing” on them, like hitting the snooze button.

You know you need to take care of it, but you keep hitting snooze, and eventually, that’s going to blow up in your face. I mean, you can’t hit snooze on tough conversations forever, especially if it’s someone you work with really closely. You can’t avoid them. That’s not an effective way of dealing with things, especially if you’re their leader.

One of the things that I like to do, in terms of starting any direct and potentially tough conversation, is start with your intent and saying that intent out loud. 99% of conversations and communication mishaps, in my opinion, happen because we don’t know where the other person’s coming from. (We don’t know their intent.) They think we do, but we don’t.

Jennifer: Why you’re not a mind reader?

Courtney: That’s my dream in life. That’s a superpower I want to have, but I’m not. But, if I was to come at Negative Nancy in my considerate communication style, I’d probably come up to her and say, “Listen, Nancy, I like you, I’m your friend. I want to continue being your friend. I’ve noticed that usually when we’re together, things aren’t going well for you. I want to learn more about that. I want to learn how I can be a friend and help you out here at work. What can I do to help you be more positive? Is there anything I can work with you on, because I really don’t want you to be upset all the time.”

Jigna: That makes sense.

Courtney: I’m softening things before I get into it, instead of, “Girl, what’s going to make you happy? I’m sick of you!” (But that’s what considerates do! We soften.)

Jigna: Yeah absolutely, and that’s some good advice. You do have to look at their communication style and personality type and how they’re going to receive the information. If it’s too harsh, they might just put their wall up and stonewall anything that you want to say.