Q: I’ve been working with a co-worker who I’ve seen as pretty negative and who brings out the worst in me. But lately, I’ve been thinking that maybe I’m the negative one.
How can I get a clear view on myself and change my behavior, if needed? — Andre, 50, creative director
A: Reframing the issue to ask yourself if you’re actually the problem is a huge step forward!
Keep this thought process going to work through your next steps, starting with a deep look in your inner and outer mirrors.
First, test the idea that you are the one with the issue. If it has dawned on you that you’ve experienced this pattern before or if it’s occurring in multiple aspects of your life, you may well be right.
Dig more deeply into the pattern, noticing any triggers.
Maybe it shows up only if you’re under a certain level of stress, for example, having too many things to get done at once.
Underlying personality type differences can be an unrecognized source of stress. Maybe people who are unusually dominant or unusually passive get under your skin.
You might need help seeing yourself clearly. If you have an appropriate development resource in your HR department, consider requesting a 360 review, getting feedback from people you work with. This can be both affirming and revealing.
Or ask trusted people; just be careful not to argue against their feedback and recognize that it might be hard to hear.
Look at your life more broadly.
If you’re dissatisfied with other aspects, this may be showing up as negativity at work, using this person as a scapegoat.
In that case, do the hard work of considering what you might need to change.
This may all take awhile to figure out. In the meantime, everyone, including you, will benefit if you can modify your behavior.
Make a list of the ways you act when you’re negative. Then notice how you feel right before that.
For example, you might lash out. Do you feel tension building in your body before that? When you feel that tension, remind yourself to take a deep breath to release on an exhale rather than through angry words.
Develop habits of positivity. I heard a powerful testimonial on the value of affirmations just recently. Taping a list of positive messages to your mirror and repeating them 10 times out loud will help vaccinate you against negativity (appreciation to Lewiee Blaze for this!).
Notice beauty, turning negatives into positives. Is it cold? Notice the beautiful sky. Raining? Admire the droplets on your window. Create opportunities to see beauty every day.
Go back to basics, doing your day-to-day activities with focus. Bring peaceful intention to the mundane tasks of folding your clothes, fixing dinner, running errands.
Find a way to find the humor in the hassles that inevitably come up.
Also consider ways to work peacefully with the co-worker you’re struggling with. Think about their point of view and initiate conversations about constructive ways to work together.
Assuming that they are not gaslighting you (which would be a bigger issue), removing this life irritant will help you both.