Debbie Downer Down the Hall

Help! I’m desperate! How do I handle the ultimate “Debbie Downer” co-worker? Her default in manner and interaction is so depressive it is affecting my ability to do work. This person is obsessed with disease, death and dying and constantly reports out the latest death, dismemberment or sad event that comes across her screen. I am at my wit’s end. Help!


I hear you loud and clear. Lil Debbie is messing with your good time vibes and boundaries. I mean who would want to hear about death and dying all day long unless you own a morgue (ca-ching!). My guess is that this person has found her topic of reaction – death and all of the gory details. She gets a reaction – most likely not a positive one – but a reaction that makes her feel heard and acknowledged.

We do what works for us. Her grim outlook gets her attention – she gets fed.

As for you, which is the only thing you can control in this situation, what are you willing to do to change the situation? If you now know that this is an attention seeking tactic, how can you proactively address her before she goes down the dismemberment rabbit hole? What things do you have in common? Think about how you can shift her into happy topics. Plant the seeds for positivity! Get her out for a walk. Take her to coffee. We’re all looking for connection and this could be an amazing opportunity for you to shift the energy in the office.

Could you ignore her? Sure, but I’m going to guess you’ll still be hearing the news headlines. So, take a deep breath and approach her with compassion and a general curiosity to get to know her beyond her morbid fascinations.


Managing Up and Down

How do you manage within a division when the division chief, my boss, has been with the company much longer than both his directors and has close relationships with the directors’ employees and allows these employees to come to him about issues?

The most recent example is that my boss, the division chief, scolded me that he is "hearing" one of my employees feels I am harder on her than on others and that there is tension between her and I. His instructions to me are that I need to figure out how to fix this. I have very good interactions with this employee and feel no tension. I've given her opportunity to privately clear the air with me if she feels and she states everything is great and she is much happier than she is with my predecessor.

This isn't the first time this has happened and I'm just not sure where to go or how to address it without harming my relationship with the division chief. We do not have annual evaluations (HR is trying to implement them starting with 2017), therefore the only opportunity for constructive feedback would be if I initiate a discussion. I understand they have a history and friendly relationship that comes from years of working together. For history, I've been with the company about a year. Many of the people I supervise have been with the company 10 to 20 years. The division chief has been with the organization about 9 years. The other director has been here about 4 years, he has similar experiences with the division chief, but has chosen to live with it and not address the issue.


Dear Managing Up and Down,

Thank you for your question. From what I’m hearing, it sounds like you may be feeling like you’re on the outside with the preexisting relationships in your organization. It can be a challenge to try to navigate dynamics in the office if you feel like you’re getting conflicting information or that people aren’t being honest or transparent with you. It can take time to find your leadership flow and groove with a new organization or team.

My question to you is how do you want to feel in the workplace? How do you want to show up to your boss and team? What kind of leader do you want to be?

It sounds like you may be feeling uneasy or unsettled, but if you can find a way to create win-win relationship with your boss and colleagues, it will help you feel more grounded.

My suggestion would be to step back from being the traditional supervisor. Be honest about how you’re feeling and ask for input on how you can work better together. For some reason we tip-toe around issues in the office, but it really just leads to us feeling inauthentic and unresolved.

So instead of creating a corporatized response, let’s go with a human response. “What do you need from me to work better?” If she says, “I’m fine,” I would mention that you’re sensing there may be more under the surface. Work towards the trust. This is about you and no one else – not your boss, not your colleagues with similar issues, not even her. This is about you feeling powerful and grounded.

The more you can elevate your influence, the more powerful you will become. Influence is not coercion or force, but it is a powerful force that expands collaboration, trust and most importantly fun.

If you’d like to pursue more specific techniques, I’d be happy to discuss on a call.

All the best,

Coach Lauren