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Be a no-show for a gloomy co-worker’s pity party

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in Your Office Coach

Question: "A woman in our office complains constantly. She gripes about being single, needing money, and lots of other personal problems. Our company has been laying people off and cutting back hours, but instead of being thankful to have a job, she grumbles about how they 'took away her overtime.'

"When we try to point out the good things in her life, she gets quiet and won’t talk for hours. A couple of us thought she might be depressed, so we suggested that she contact our employee assistance program. However, she didn’t like what the counselor said, so she won’t go back.

"Times are tough, and her chronic negativity makes everything more depressing. What should we do?" Tired of Listening

Answer: Your gloomy colleague may be clinically depressed, or she may just be an unpleasant person. Either way, you’ve done all you can by referring her to employee assistance. Now you should focus on improving your own life by discouraging her pity parties.

If you’re feeling trapped by these dismal conversations, then you’re undoubtedly being too polite. Listening to her complaints will only reward that behavior, so extricate yourself by taking control of the conversation.

As soon as Debbie Downer launches into one of her melancholy monologues, immediately state that you have to get back to work. If you’re stuck with her during breaks or lunch, respond to any negative comments by changing the subject to something more cheerful. Since she stops talking when people point out positives, this might be the solution to your problem.

Have some annoying co-workers? Maybe you can find some help here: How to Deal with Childish Adults.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Melanie January 22, 2013 at 11:48 am

Dr. McIntyre is right. This woman’s co-workers are being way to nice. Stick to work related topics and when she starts whining, move the subject back to work. If she won’t keep on topic, walk away and continue the conversation via email. It might be harsh, but if she started complaining to me during a break or lunch and I was unable to switch the conversation, I’d move to a different table.


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