Why You Should Want Negative Coworkers


Do you find yourself avoiding negative colleagues? Do you wish they found a new place to work? There might be some good reasons to appreciate your negative colleagues.

First of all, negative colleagues respond to email faster than positive colleagues. A recent study found that our negative colleagues, the ones who use “stupid” in their email messages, for instance, respond to 64% of our email messages within a day.  Can you say that about yourself? Do you respond to email within a day? It might make you re-evaluate yourself and whether you are a positive or negative colleague.

Second, we’ve noticed that negative colleagues tend to surface real problems sooner than positive colleagues. They don’t beat around the bush, hoping to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. They are more concerned with solving a problem and getting to a real solution, even if it means trampling on someone else’s concerns. Isn’t this actually a good thing in the long run? Isn’t it better to solve problems more quickly rather than let them simmer and cause more speculation and concern?

Our negative colleagues are realists, seeing the world as it really is and not as we wish it to be. Sometimes, this is frustrating, because we don’t want to see our problems. We’d rather see our office, department, or organization as a happy and collaborative place where everybody enjoys themselves. Our negative colleagues, however, see the glass half empty and force the positive colleagues to explain why it is actually half full. This might not actually be bad for creating better teams and collaboration because then the negative and positive colleagues are forced to talk to each other and explain their perspectives, or as the late Dr. Covey says in Habit 5: “seek first to understand before you are understood.” This is one of his hardest habits, but very worthwhile.

Fourth, we tend to see negative colleagues as focused on unnecessary details and being overly picky when in fact, they are helping us to be orderly, detailed, complete, and focused on producing a quality product. If we aren’t focused on the details of what we produce, we could end up with a product or service that is all shine and no substance.

So, how do you see yourself? Are you that positive or negative colleague?  Can you find ways that both can be useful to your work environment?  Maybe we should all thank our negative colleagues, today, for helping to make our workplaces more productive!

Karen and Aneil Mishra are business school professors and authors of Trust is Everything (2008) and Becoming a Trustworthy Leader (2012).