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Negate Negative Energy

As we examine the things at work that divert us from our most important priorities, the negative energy and time suck that gossiping and complaining create are a big culprit. These behaviors shift our energy from positive to negative. They consume valuable time. Even more detrimental is that over time they pollute working relationships. When gossiping and complaining become chronic, a toxic work environment emerges.

 You may not be able to totally avoid all gossip and complaining in a work setting – as the source might be customers, team or office mates and maybe even our boss. While we still need to deal with them, we can do what we would do with other toxic substances: contain them, limit exposure, and de-toxify ourselves after contact.

 This post is #9 in a series of posts in a 10 Step Process to simplify your work life and to get more focus on the things that really matter. Each step, in and of itself, will enable you to simplify to focus, but I do encourage you to do Step 2: Setting Unambiguous and Unwavering Priorities prior to taking steps 3 to 10.

 And a quick reminder:  it’s not too late to join the 10-step work simplification challenge! You can revisit all the steps, get additional hints and resources and share your progress and by joining our LinkedIn Group: LinkedIn Group: 10 Steps to Simplify Work


We can sometimes underestimate the power our emotions and our energy play in enabling work to flow smoothly, cleanly and almost effortlessly. That is why, in our quest to simplify in order to focus on our most important work, we want to eliminate behaviors that pollute our energy and create disharmony and drag. Gossiping and complaining are two big culprits in many work settings.

I suspect that as long as there has been work, there has been complaining. There is nothing wrong with a little bit of grumbling or grouchiness. The danger sets in when it becomes chronic, for it sets a tone that is negative rather than positive. When it is habitual, our focus shifts from resolving problems to wallowing in them. Chronic complaining wears us out, keeps us stuck and creates a victim mentality that prevents us from progress, productivity and joy.

There are multiple problems gossip and complaining cause including:

  • Consuming precious energy without commensurate progress
  • Being extraordinarily contagious
  • Compromising our health and well-being
  • Creating unnecessary drama
  • Distracting us from more important things
  • Negatively impacting team morale and customer satisfaction

It is easy to point fingers at all those other grouchy and gossiping others. Let’s remember that we can’t change the “other”, but we can change ourselves. As there are few saints among us, I encourage you to own the times you are gossiping and grouchy and start there. For I suspect that, like me, there are times I am not at my best and that is where my richest opportunities are to influence others in a positive way.

Contrast that with the opposite behaviors: building others up and finding solutions to problems. These behaviors empower us and others. They are forward thinking and action oriented. They too are contagious, and others will begin to mirror high positive regard for others, accountability, and forward-looking actions. Finding increasing opportunities to show up in this way will not only help you, but others.

Here are five ways for you to deal with gossiping and complaining.

  1. Don’t add fuel to the fire. I know how compelling it can be to get pulled into these types of discussions. The gossip is juicy. The complaining about others diverts focus from you. Please step back and look at your own contribution to the situation. Even if you are just listening and nodding your head, you have a part in encouraging these behaviors.
  2. Sort out style friction from intentional bad behavior. There are people who rub us the wrong way. In those times it is easy to attribute those characteristics to character flaws or intentional actions to “get our goats”. Reframing someone you see as a “chronic complainer” as a very astute problem identifier….as the person who is gossiping as someone who is worried about another can help us see that person and the situation in a different light.
  3. Set boundaries. Be alert to those times when you are drawn into these unhealthy conversations and master a few techniques to set your personal boundaries. Statements that define who you aspire to be can both set a boundary and raise the bar for those in the conversation. See Challenge Two below for some great responses.
  4. Use the situations to grow your own EQ. Complaining and gossiping often happen when someone feels powerless or unheard. See if you can begin to unearth the underlying reason for this person’s reactions. Build your empathy skills and stretch yourself to understand what that other person is feeling and then adjust your reaction accordingly.
  5. Take care of yourself. The better your mental well-being, the better you can deflect or diminish the impact of this negativity. Eat well. Rest. Exercise. Hang around positive people. In essence, immunize yourself against the contagion of gossip and complaining.

Challenge One: Nurture Healthy Relationships (20 minutes)

Go to where the health is. Spending more time with people who inspire you, challenge you to be your best and are role-models for healthy behaviors will be a great benefit and also will “choke” out the time and energy drain of the gossipers and complainers.

Our performance is heavily influenced by the quality of the people we surround ourselves with. So, with intention, spend more time with those who lift you up and less time with those who keep you down.

You know who these people are. However, you have likely not been intentional about where you spend your time.

  1. Create a list of five people who lift you up and who are a positive influence in your life
  2. Create the list of people who pull you down or suck your time and energy
  3. Identify ways in which you can spend more time with group #1 and less time with group #2

In my experience, once I have some intentionality and awareness about it, my time begins to shift appropriately. However, if you find that the folks in your life in the “toxic” category are unavoidable (boss/close family) – find some help. It may be a book or a coach or a counselor.

Challenge Two: Pull the Weeds (2 minutes at a time)

Gossip and complaining do not operate in a vacuum. The gossip needs someone to gossip with. The complainer requires someone to commiserate with. If you can’t avoid these conversations, find ways to challenge rather than be complacent. Remember that your goal is not to change the other (although that may be the outcome over time). It is to refuse to engage, encourage and perpetuate these behaviors.

Memorize these responses – which are polite, to the point and pull the other person to a higher standard. You become the role model for refocusing, resolving and healthier behavior. When you encounter someone who is gossiping or complaining – allow no more than one minute for the to “vent”. Then pull out your weed killing question – and shift the conversation to a healthier place.

Responses that can curb, redirect and reduce gossip:

  • Something about that sounds not quite right. Have you asked that person about it?
  • I’m confused. Help me understand why you are sharing this with me instead of the person you are concerned with?
  • I’m uncomfortable talking about person XYZ when they are not a part of the conversation.
  • What did person XYZ say when you asked them about this situation?

Responses that can reduce and redirect complaining:

  • What have you already tried to resolve this problem?
  • What can you do to make this situation better?
  • Is there a way I can help you find a solution to this situation?
  • This seems outside of our control. Let’s focus on where we can make a difference.

It may take more than one time for this strategy to work. So repeat until it takes. There are two possible successful outcomes:

  1. The gossip or complainer avoids you in the future
  2. You help the person move to a healthier place

Both ways are a win – for you are then able to focus your time and positive energy on what matters most!

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