How to Deal with a Negative Crewmate at Sea
What do you do when someone onboard is sucking the enjoyment and positivity out of life at sea?
Jobs at sea can be demanding. They take a certain type of person to be able to cope with the physical aspect of the work, and they also require a certain personality to be able to withstand the months spent away from family and loved ones. Being mentally strong, as well as physically fit is all-important.
But what do you do when there’s someone on board whose behavior is sucking all the enjoyment and positivity out of your life on a container ship?
How to deal with a negative crewmate at sea
There can’t be many people that truly enjoy negativity. It’s stressful, it can bring you down, and when you’re working in seafarer jobs, it can also have a real adverse affect on your ability to safely and efficiently perform your tasks.
The silver lining to the cloud of working with someone who is negative and brings bad vibes to the vessel is that you’re (hopefully) only going to have to put up with them for the duration of that contract.
The Silver Lining
But to make sure they’re not bringing you down with them while you’re crewing together, you still need to know how to diffuse their toxic attitude.
How you deal with a negative crewmate can depend on a lot of things: if they are in one of the higher seafarer ranks than you it might be harder to confront the issue than if you’re above them in the crew configuration.
It also depends on your personality: some people would rather tackle the problem head on while others will prefer to ignore the situation.
But when you’re part of a small crew and have to spend time with someone whether you like it or not, it’s good to know how to deal with them rather than burying your head in the sand for the next four or six months!
We’re going to break down the issues surrounding your negative crewmate and look at how to deal with them.
Max van den Oetelaar
Understand if they're just having a bad day
We all have those days when we’re tired, grumpy, and just not ‘feeling it’. It could be one of those days that hits you just how much you’re missing your partner or spouse, or that feeling that you’ve ‘got out of bed on the wrong side’.
Days like that usually blow over just like stormy weather. But if the behavior of someone onboard is starting to stress you out because they’re negative day in and day out, it’s a sign that you could be dealing with someone toxic.
The thing is with stress is that it can actually be good for us and as someone living a large part of their life on a container ship, you are no stranger to stressful situations.
But there’s a difference between a pressured situation at sea firing up your adrenaline to help you cope with whatever challenges seafarer jobs throw at you, and the tiresome stress brought on by having to work with someone who doesn’t stop complaining throughout their watch or in the mess.
Blah Blah Blah
The problem you face in getting someone who is bringing nothing but bad vibes to the table (quite literally if you’re in the mess!) is that they are usually so wrapped up in their own doom and gloom that it can be really hard to get them to change.
Don't fall into their negative trap!
We’re all different and some people do just have negative personality types. What you need to do is learn how to deal with that person so your own mood isn’t ruined, your productivity isn’t killed, and you can continue to be a proactive and helpful member of your crew.
Remember - it won’t be in your favor to get caught up in their misery.
Don’t be tempted to sympathize with their complaints - especially if they’re unfounded - as it will only paint you with the same brush.
That will make other crew members view you in the same way you see Mr. or Miss Negative and make it less likely that your employer will line you up for one of their seafarer jobs in the future.
What have I Done?
You want to be the crewmate everyone likes - and that includes by your employer! However, if someone you’re crewing with is suddenly displaying signs of negativity where there were none before, or if you don’t know the seafarer at all, it would be wise to check and make sure they’re not experiencing real issues.
Different negative behavior (and how to cope with it)
The pessimist is your typical ‘glass half empty’ kind of person. And while we’re all entitled to our own perspective, when you’re living life on a container ship and you’re in the almost constant company of someone who sees the worst possible outcome for every situation, it’s not going to be doing much for team spirit.
How to deal with a pessimist
The pessimist will find something to complain about at every turn, make no mistake about that! The food served in the mess, your other crewmates, the weather, the comfort (or lack of) of his or her bunk, and of course the work they are actually being paid to do as part of their seafarer jobs...the list goes on.
Half Empty or Full?
The thing is, like many toxic behaviors, it can be difficult, if not downright impossible to change the person who is displaying them
And the trouble with the pessimist is that they are often so self-centered and stuck inside their own head that they might not even realize that they’re bringing everyone down with them and leaving nothing but a trail of misery in their wake.
The best way of handling this gloomy character is to cheerfully counteract their grumbles with lighthearted comments of your own. If their complaint is actually genuine, try suggesting some ways they could tackle the issue (rather than just moaning about it.)
Whatever you do don’t feed their hunger for negativity.
If your attempts to lighten the mood when you’re with them don’t work, if you are of an appropriate position to do so (i.e. you’re not a deck cadet to their chief officer) speak to them in a kind and friendly way and point out that their negativity is having an effect on the rest of the crew and your life on a container ship.
If that doesn’t do any good, the best thing you can do is to blank out their non-stop moaning and treat it as white noise!
This is a person who thinks they’re better than everyone else. No matter which of the seafarer ranks they are, they are sure they’re a gift to the shipping industry.
The problem is, this can often be at someone else’s expense. Know-it-alls are often control freaks and are focused on their own success. And on a vessel where a crew needs to work together, this type of person can be a real pain in the backside.
How to deal with a know-it-all
Know-it-alls can leave you feeling belittled. They’re often so keen to show off their own superior sense of knowledge and skill that they will put others down to make themselves look better. (Or so they think!)
Remember that you deserve to be respected - you’ve worked hard to get where you are and no matter which of the seafarer ranks you are, you’re contributing to life on a container ship in a positive way.
You could always try engaging with them and asking them some questions about whatever subject it is they’re currently boasting about. Chances are they don’t know as much as they pretend they do and this could stop them in their tracks and make them think before they speak next time.
Obviously this is probably a tactic that is best used with seafarer ranks lower than yourself. Trying to catch your master out in a grand half truth is probably not advisable!
On the other hand, if someone’s know-it-all attitude is so bad that it’s more than just a spot of showing off and is verging on bullying, then keep in mind, that’s all they are - a bully who is best ignored.
And if all else fails, simply make up an excuse and find a way to get away from them - or at least change the subject.
This is the crewmate who has no problem smiling at you and being nice to your face, and then complaining about you to other seafarers and even your superiors.
In other words a backstabber.
This is not someone you want to have around because they can do potential harm to your career - especially if they are working in one of the higher seafarer ranks to you.
How to deal with a double-crosser
This can be a tricky situation as it can come down to your word against theirs - again, this is difficult if they’re of a higher rank than you. You have to be willing to stand up for yourself, to try and diffuse them, and limit the potential damage they could cause to your career in jobs at sea and your life on a container ship.
It’s important that you stay calm when dealing with a backstabber - they will use any opportunity to roll their eyes and say “See - that’s what I was talking about…” if you show any kind of negativity or anger when dealing with the issues they’ve caused.
Part of this is to firstly make sure you’re not overreacting to what they’re talking about behind your back. Could there be any truth in the things they’re saying? Be honest with yourself and ask a trusted crewmate onboard for their opinion too.
Point the Finger
Your best bet is to confront the double-crosser - in a cool and controlled manner - and ask them for their take on the issue. You might find that there’s been a huge misunderstanding.
If not, remaining professional while keeping as much distance as your respective seafarer ranks allow is probably your best bet.
If possible you might also want to talk to your superior as the last thing you want is for rumors to create problems for you at work.
Be the best you can and get hired for more jobs at sea
If you can help break a fellow crewmate’s cycle of negativity, that’s great. Just try to keep in mind that no matter how they’re behaving towards you, you have value and belong on that vessel as much as the next seafarer.
Be proud to be working in the shipping industry and stand tall.
You Got This!
Try not to take things personally: often toxic people don’t have anything against the person they’re talking to (or about) - it’s just the way they are in general, and they’re normally like it with everyone.
Don’t gossip, don’t get caught up in dramas and stand up for yourself in a professional and appropriate fashion, no matter which of the seafarer ranks you are.
Most of all, try and have a little empathy for that person: after all, anyone who is caught up in a spiral of negativity is unlikely to be truly happy and may benefit from some tips for better mental health.
This article was originally published on the Martide Seafarer Blog on February 10th 2020.