That person in the room


We’ve all been there because every A/E firm in existence seems to have one. I’m talking about the person in the room who is completely, utterly negative.

You’re in a meeting. Changes are being proposed. The future is being charted. Possibilities are being discussed. But the “Debbie Downer” of the group sits off to the side, disapprovingly. You can tell by the expression on their face that they don’t like any of it. And if they do say anything, it’s always:

  • “This won’t work.”
  • “I can’t _____.”
  • “We can’t _____.”
  • “We can’t afford that.”
  • “We’ll never get that done.”

Negative, negative, negative. And like a roofing nail in the tire of your pickup, these people slowly suck the air out of the room, deflating the collective sense of possibility as their negativity spreads like “the nothingness” in The NeverEnding Story (a bad ‘80s cult-classic kid’s movie for those who didn’t know).

But some people are just like that. It may make them feel smarter to always figure out why something WON’T work. Maybe they’re unhappy at home and taking it out at the office. Or maybe they’re seething about some injustice they perceive was done to them at some point in the past. Who knows?

The real question is what do you do about it? And what if this person is one of your fellow partners or in a key role?

There really are only a couple options. Talk to them. Hear them out if they’ll talk. Share your concerns about their negativity and how that is harmful to the morale of the team and to them personally. Maybe you can even try to get them some help (counseling)?

And if that doesn’t work – after multiple attempts (never give up easily, though eventually you probably will) – they may need to be encouraged to find a new place they (and you), feel better about. Because the bottom line is your firm’s collective emotional state and morale cannot handle someone like this forever. It may be best for you – and for the negative person – to find them a new environment.

Think about it.

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s founder and CEO. Contact him at

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