You know them. Mention the beautiful, sunshiny morning and they'll talk about the last time they got sunburned. Outline an amazing project and they'll insist finance won't approve it. Heck, celebrate birthdays in the office with cake and ice cream and they'll complain it's not pie or start talking about the sugar crash the whole team surely is going to get.

Behold, the dreaded pessimist.

Now, a certain degree of defensive pessimism can be a good thing. It helps you see areas of potential risk, and when you can see risk, you can take steps to head it off. But if a person is chronically pessimistic and lets the air out of your tank virtually at every step, that's a problem. Research on optimistic versus pessimistic workers reveals that

  • 27 percent of pessimists try to look at a problem from different angles, compared to 94 percent of optimists.
  • 51 percent of pessimists see failure as an opportunity to learn, compared to 96 percent of optimists.
  • 14 percent of pessimists thrive in high-pressure situations and cope well, compared to 84 percent of optimists.

In other words, pessimists don't just make you feel bad. They can hold back the resiliency of your team and make it harder to find real solutions, which can show up in the bottom line.

3 keys to stop the pessimist cold

Amy Gallo of Harvard Business Review reminds us that there's typically an underlying reason for pessimism, such as resentment, insecurity or a need for attention. Your first step in defending yourself thus is to try to figure out the root of the issue. Once you've done that, Gallo outlines three main keys to breaking a pessimist's habits.

  • Create awareness of the problem. Pull the pessimist aside and tell them the effect they're having, balancing this with positivity about how much they're valued or appreciated.
  • Reposition negative statements. Ask the pessimist to explain why they think something or ask for alternative solutions. Follow negative statements with "but" to pivot to the positive.
  • Involve the whole team. Set some norms about conversation and positive behavior and model for the pessimist--social pressure works!

What you can say

With these guidelines in mind, here are some examples of phrases to use to redirect the pessimist who's about to burst your bubble.

1.     "What can you (we) do to..."

2.     "Do you need some advice?"

3.     "Do you need to vent?"

4.     "What led you to that conclusion?"

5.     "Can you show me your proof?"

6.     "You've made a good point, but if we x, then y."

7.     "When you keep pointing out the negative, we lose the enthusiasm we need to be really creative and productive. But you've shown me x, and I believe that you can y."

8.     "What goal do you want to achieve?"

9.     "May I explain why I disagree with you?"

10.  "Have you considered...?"

11.  "I prefer to focus on..."

12.  "Let's think about..."

13.  "Can you rephrase that in a positive way?"

14.  "Perhaps so, but here's the good/alternative I see."

15.  "You've identified a valid problem. Let's brainstorm on how to fix it."

16.  "I'd appreciate it if you could give me some alternatives."

17.  "How can I help you move forward/past x?"

18.  "Yes, but I'm grateful that..."

19.  "Let's seek a solution to that together."

20.  "Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Now let's..."

21.  "Can we get a second opinion on that from...?"

22.  "What would you do instead?"

23.  "What do you need to fix it/move forward?"

24.  "You have the power to turn this around."

25.  "It would help me a lot if you..."

26.  "How could we improve this?"

27.  "What has worked in the past for this type of problem?"

28.  "I can see why you'd think that/feel that way. What's your next step?"

29.  "You sound upset. Is that what you were trying to convey?"

30.  "Can we approach this from a different angle?"

31.  "I'd love to tackle this a different way with you."

Whether you use one of these options or come up with another on your own, it's important to remember that a pessimist usually isn't out to hurt you on purpose. They might not even realize how much they come across as a downer. Aim to truly listen and empathize rather than passing judgment, and over time, they'll trust you and learn not to stay in the pits.