National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Pollyannas vs. Complainers

Family Matters - Working Life

BY Dave Durand

February 10-16, 2008 Issue | Posted 2/5/08 at 3:26 PM


2 Poles, 1 Team

It seems like there are two types of people in the office I work in. Some are chronic complainers. No matter what happens, good or bad, they always focus on the pitfalls and the problems. Others are just the opposite: positive-thinking Pollyannas. They’re so chipper, they enable problems to fester by refusing to acknowledge that any exist. There’s got to be a happy middle. Where have all the realists gone?

It is my experience that the loudest personalities in the office usually set the tone. Their extreme attitudes permeate the work atmosphere and often drown out the collective voice of reason.

You’re probably not entirely alone, though it may take a while to discover others who are quiet but reasonable. Keep your eyes and ears open because you may find an undiscovered friend and ally who sees things like you do.

In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to cope — and even to excel — in what sounds like a polarized corporate culture.

As far as coping is concerned, having perspective is the best way to start. Although there’s nothing holy, per se, in either group’s approach, they’re probably working with their God-given temperaments. Some people have a natural tendency to see the down side of things.

If you can get past the irritation that you feel, you may begin to recognize that their “negativity” can be a positive thing because it anchors the Pollyanna crowd. If the negative people weren’t there, your office staff might try every flighty or whimsical idea that comes down the pike. That could lead to disaster.

On the other hand, if the complaining crowd did not have the Pollyanna group to balance the scales, especially when making decisions, then your team would be paralyzed by imaginary obstacles.

God gave each of us a different outlook. When we work together we can get a “three-dimensional” perspective on challenges at work.

Now, when it comes to excelling, you have a great opportunity because the people you have described are probably starving for good leadership. Even if you don’t have direct line authority over anyone — and it sounds like you’re a staffer, not a manager — you will emerge as a leader if you manage the situation appropriately. (For some excellent insights on ground-up leadership, see “Virtue + Action = Leadership: We Are All Called to Lead” in the Jan. 13-19 issue of the Register.)

One of the biggest reasons people go to one of two extremes is because they don’t feel important in their work. If you find a way to encourage the negative crowd by thanking them for contributions and recognizing their work, they may become more positive — even if only around you. If you do the same with the Pollyanna group, they might take more pride in the details of their work and become increasingly foresighted.

Another reason people sometimes act in either extreme is because they feel insecure in some way. It may come from feeling as though they have no real control over change or they may feel like their job itself is not secure.

Finding ways to build confidence will be fruitful. Most people are never complimented for a job well done but they are “recognized” for mistakes. Be sure that you recognize the big and little things in one-on-one settings and during public gatherings such as over lunch or in a meeting.

Remember that when people feel good they usually perform at their best.

In December, Leadership Excellence magazine

named Dave Durand on its list of

“the top 100 minds on personal development.”

He’s online at