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I have a colleague, developer, not a lead, with whom we work closely on the project. Generally he is reliable and people can expect help from him. I say "generally" because this help always comes with some annoying remarks or unneeded comments. Anyway, he is a member of the team and people are accepting him.

The issue is in our conversations he is very dismissive about the work of others and everyone is incompetent, no skillful people in the project, PM are slobs, etc. I'm listening all this negativity everyday for hours and I start questioning whether I'm developing the same attitude. I can feel I'm part of the team and he applies the same attitude to me, passively.

What or should I discuss this with my manager (who is also the PM)? I don't want to make a fuss since people seems to accept him, but I'm exposed much more.
We have a frequent survey what's wrong and what can be improved. In fact we are asked about feedback for the other team members but feedback is not anonymized.

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  • Is he generally like this about everything or is he just comfortable around you and feels safe to vent?
    – solarflare
    Aug 10, 2022 at 3:40
  • @solarflare we just talk longer because our tasks are related. Aug 10, 2022 at 3:42
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    I have that kind of coworker too. Some people just like to complain, most of the time it's not really a problem. Just their way of venting frustration. I wouldn't pay attention to them, unless it's affecting the business or team dynamics.
    – jwsc
    Aug 10, 2022 at 5:29
  • @GregoryCurrie, the PM is my manager Aug 10, 2022 at 6:59
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    If there is behaviour that you find annoying about your coworker, the best course of action is to ask them to keep it positive. No need to make a thing of it. Aug 10, 2022 at 7:40

5 Answers 5

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First, ask yourself the following questions:

  • is the attitude of the coworker causing problems for the business?
  • is the attitude causing problems in the team?

If the answer to one of the above questions is yes, try to quantify the damage. Is it really significant, or more a "this could be problematic, if someone takes it personally"?

If there is no real harm done, I would let it go. Some people just like to complain. Most probably the attitude is just the coworkers way of venting frustration.

Personal experience:

I have that coworker too. In (austrian) German there is also a word for that kind of guy: "Grantler". It's the one who sits in the pub and complains about taxes, politicians and how his wife spends too much on clothing. At work the team lead always assigns too much tasks to him, the project managers don't understand the project enough, and if something breaks in production he is the one who "knew that this would happen from the start". It's a way of life.

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  • I guess we all had our fair share of dealing with pessimistic and cynicyl 'Grantlers' in our lifes. Might it be a family member, a friend or colleague or random people in public. I agree with your answer to let it go and brush it off as long as it doesn't have a detrimental impact on the project or the team. (btw - they use that term in Bavaria, southern Germany as well)
    – iLuvLogix
    Aug 10, 2022 at 8:45
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    Complaining about taxes and politicians is one thing, but trash talking about team members behind their back is a different thing. It's affecting the team culture and morale, and that's a problem.
    – Egor
    Aug 10, 2022 at 11:59
  • @Egor In general, I agree. But as the OP indicated, the other team members seem to accept the "ranting colleague". So I think they are already used to his language and don't take offense.
    – jwsc
    Aug 10, 2022 at 12:56
  • It does seem to cause one clear problem: it's annoying OP.
    – Borgh
    Aug 11, 2022 at 14:37
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Assuming this is causing problems, you could try to ask him specifically why he says what he says. For example, if he states "Bob is incompetent!", you could ask "What did Bob do to prove himself incompetent? What's wrong with his work?" (feel free to rephrase).

From here, if there are real issues or real causes to your colleague frustrations, you (and/or your team) may be able to find solutions.

And maybe, after a while, he will get the message and stop being dismissive.

But if it's not causing serious damages, I would let it go, as @jwsc suggested it in his answer.

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    I would also add feelings about Bob being so incompetent? Angry, frustrated. Whatever you do, do not discuss with superiors unless he is using profanity or harassing team members; you deal with it!
    – paulj
    Aug 10, 2022 at 14:35
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Here's the thing about humans: With the exception of people who are actually insane and have mental issues, most things that people do, are done for a reason. Nobody will say something about how bad other people are, unless they have a reason for thinking that way. When someone says "oh, I think everyone else on the team does shitty work" or something like that, there are really 2 options for what's going on here:

  1. He doesn't know what he's talking about. Maybe his definition of "shitty work" is actually "good work", but he works in a different, less efficient way himself, and he can't see that he's actually the one with the shitty work.

  2. He actually has a point, and he has some lessons to teach other people to improve work efficiency.

In both cases, someone, perhaps you, perhaps your manager, perhaps your PM, should have a talk with him. But the focus of the talk should not be on getting him to stop complaining or bringing down morale. The focus of the talk should be on what specifically he sees in his colleagues (yourself included) that could be improved, and why he thinks that would be a good idea. Try to hear his story and consider his opinions. Once you've heard his story and considered his point of view, then you can decide if he has a point or not. If he does have a point, then try to implement some of his suggestions; if not, then you can proceed with reprimands or other disciplinary action.

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There's a simple fact: this person is what they are and you probably won't change it (and you shouldn't try).

Other answers so far suggest to not bring it up, but I'd disagree. You can tell your manager that this person's attitude is affecting your morale and ask your manager to give you different tasks, where you'd have to communicate with this person less. I think the reasoning you brought up here is absolutely valid, but you can choose to give less details to your manager.

This can backfire, or course, if the manager and the colleague are best buddies, but if the manager is reasonable I wouldn't expect such request to be a problem.

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The best course of action is to ignore his trash-talk. Whenever he starts trash-talking, you can try to gently but firmly steer the conversation into some different directions such as:

  1. The current status of the project you are working on.

  2. Any technical issues you and he are facing and how to resolve them.

  3. The next tasks you and he will work on.

  4. Your favorite sport teams or his favorite teams.

  5. Your favorite video games or his favorite music band.

  6. The weather, etc...

After a few times, he will get the message that you don't want to be part of the trash-talk team, and that you just want to work and have fun at work.

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