Debbie Downer on Positivity

Have you ever found yourself in a meeting with someone who seems unable to say anything supportive, constructive, or uplifting? Any chance you’re the overly critical attendee? With this week being the 10th anniversary of the Saturday Night Live character Debbie Downer, it’s a good time to remind ourselves of the negative influence one person can have.

If you’ve never seen the sketch, Debbie Downer is, well, a downer. No matter what people say, she is able to find the pessimistic perspective. While everyone is excited about seeing Pluto at Disney, Debbie will say, “he’s probably in the early stages of heat exhaustion.” If someone orders a steak, she’ll comment on Mad Cow disease.

What makes a humorous SNL character does not necessary make a humorous co-worker. Negativity hampers creativity, employee engagement, and the overall culture of the workplace. As leaders, it is our responsibility to squash this behavior.

While the Debbie Downers you work with are focused on stagnating innovation., being positive is about moving the team forward. The “Debbies” try to shoot down every new idea with a “that will never work here” approach.

This does not mean that everyone needs to agree; in fact, dissent should be encouraged. But it should not be acceptable to criticize just for the sake of criticism. If someone on the team is only tearing apart ideas, enforce the rule that every negative comment must be followed with a solution. When someone presents a not-so-great idea, address it in a respectful manner. Explain why the answer is “no” and encourage the individual to bring more ideas once they’ve thought through the hitches.

A few other ideas from U.S. News & World Report include:

  • Focus on strengths. Make every attempt to incorporate the areas in which you excel into everyday work life.
  • Balance negatives. When feeling downcast, focus on successes.
  • Practice “flexible” thinking. When considering a new challenge, explore numerous potential obstacles and generate alternative pathways to effectively manage them.
  • Acknowledge steps to success. Identify and celebrate incremental goals along the way to help bolster energy levels and maintain focus.