Jeff is a respiratory therapist in an RT department at a regional medical center in a medium-sized town in Mid-America that’s recently been acquired by a large hospital corporation. He doesn’t like the new company or any of the ideas it is trying to implement. He believes RT is being unfairly targeted for change, and he thinks everyone in the department who is trying to make the best of the situation is “selling out to the man.”

Jeff’s constant barrage of negativity is taking its toll on the staff, many of whom are beginning to wonder if he doesn’t have a point. Morale is plummeting, and more and more staff are talking about leaving. That’s causing inattention to patient care, and that’s creating a poor image for the RT department across the board.

We’ve all known people like Jeff, whether in our RT careers or elsewhere in life. They suck all the energy out of the room and are determined to bring everyone around them down too. If you’re dealing with someone like Jeff right now, here are five steps you can take to diffuse the situation –

  1. Avoid spending time with the negative person at work, and definitely outside of work, whenever possible. The less you have to listen to his complaints, the better you’ll feel.
  2. If you can’t totally avoid the negative person – for example, he’s assigned to the same shift in the ICU as you are – then minimize your exposure to him by busying yourself with a task or visiting with your patients and their families whenever you see him coming. (The latter is a great way to remember why you’re there in the first place.)
  3. When corralled by the negative person, shut the conversation down by either trying to change the subject, or if that fails, clearly stating your aversion to criticizing hospital management or whatever else he is fretting about at the time.
  4. Counteract his negativism by modeling positive behavior for your colleagues. Just as negativity is catching, so is positivity. You can be the staff member who leads her colleagues in the opposite direction, and your patients and your future career prospects will both be the better for it.
  5. Still can’t shut him up? Then visit with your supervisor about the situation, and ask whether the negative person could get some help through human resources or another hospital program aimed at resolving conflict on the job.

It’s easy to get drawn into the world of negative people, especially when there really is a germ of truth in their complaints, but folks like our fictitious Jeff don’t do anyone any good, themselves included. All hospitals have their good points and their bad points, and a better way to handle the bad is to work through the appropriate channels to effect positive change.