Dealing With The Pessimist In the Room.

My wife Amy sent this HBR article – How to Handle the Pessimist on Your Team – to me. It’s almost a decade old but seems timeless.

I’m an optimist. With rare exceptions (usually when I’m depressed), I can carry an optimistic view point about things (business, projects, humans, life, existence on this planet, my ability to some day go to a parallel universe) around in most of my interactions.

I very much respect and value different opinions as I learn from them and from being challenged. I’m not “right” and don’t view my approach to discussions as “telling the truth”, but rather “providing data”, “telling stories”, and “helping a person / team get to a decision.”

Pessimists are useful to counter balance my optimistic view point. But endless pessimism does tire me, especially when it is only used to put up objections. When the objections are part of a discussion that leads to a more thoughtful outcome, it’s great. When it’s just negative, reactive, tone deaf to context, or relentless, I often feel like I just want to crawl under my desk and take a nap.

This article is prescriptive for the non-pessimist. But, if you have a pessimistic orientation, it’s also useful. I’d be surprised if you don’t have at least one pessimist on your team, and numerous teammates who have pessimistic tendencies. Turn them into a positive, not a negative.


Also published on Medium.

  • “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” Antonio Gramsci

  • BSchildt

    My first mentor advised me to provide at least one solution to every problem or objection I had. It’s hard-coded into my operating system and I cannot count the number of times I’ve repeated it.

  • You are much better than me. I had a guy named Dale that was on a team that we were bought by. He just was bitter. I can take some pessimism but not bitterness. I don’t know how you define that.

    I pulled my shirt (I only wear t-shirts) around and said what does it say on the back of my shirt? What does it say? Am I am insulting your mother or somebody to get this treatment???? (It said nothing) I fired him on the spot. He was gobsmacked.

    He got his severance but left that minute. Told him, tell his wife, and she would understand. You have to set the tone.