He was reasonably well educated, enjoyed an upper middle-class lifestyle, and engaged in the typical range of professional and social activities in his community. He was a family man who had worked himself up through the ranks of local and state government agencies. He held a responsible position and supervised a number of folks within his department.
His career started out strong and his progress was steady. But somewhere in mid-career, his progress slowed and finally stopped all together. When it stopped, it never again started. The second half of his career was a stagnant period where the years ran together into a slow crawl to retirement. He welcomed the opportunity to retire, and most of the folks who worked with him were also pleased that he had the opportunity and finally took it.
There wasn’t a project, a proposal, an idea, or a suggestion about which he could not offer a host of negative reactions. He could find a potential problem in every situation. He was a pessimist personified and an accomplished cynic. Even when the news was good, he could find something negative in it. Every suggestion from co-workers was met with rebuffs offering potential problems. His misgivings about most everything were often comical because they were so predictable. When someone new joined the group, they were often frustrated and put off by his negative musings, but in time most of his co-workers just laughed behind his back and moved on. They humored and ignored him at the same time. His family had the same reaction to him, but they were a bit more tolerant. He was the living personification of Gloomy Gus.
(Augustus “Gloomy Gus” Hooligan was a fictional character from the cartoon strip Happy Hooligan which first appeared in 1900. Augustus, a sad, sullen, and generally unhappy soul, had two brothers; Happy, whose name matched his personality, and Montmerecy, a rather snobbish sort. The strip, named for brother Happy, featured the often-comical antics and adventures of the three uniquely different brothers. Although the comic strip ended in 1932, the nickname of Augustus, “Gloomy Gus” lives on. )
There seems to be one of these characters in every group, and you can find one on most every team. Families often have one or more with which to contend. They come in all shapes and sizes. They are of no particular age, gender, or background. Sometimes they’re well educated, and other times they’re not. They know no particular financial status, and they show up in every profession, line of work, and social endeavor.
These perpetual naysayers always find fault. Some are overt, while others take a more covert approach, just asking enough questions to raise a little doubt, cast a shadow, or muddy the waters. They seldom offer anything new, creative, or original, because they’re so busy finding fault with the suggestions, proposals, and work of others. Regardless of the situation, they find something adverse to throw into the conversation. Over time it becomes their role. It’s generally not a coveted or respected role, but is rather one that is tolerated.
To be sure there are any number of motivations that may lead someone to become the group’s wet blanket. Sometimes they are just disgruntled souls who can’t seem to see the good in anything. Others of this social ilk assume and play the gloomy role out of a sense of self-pity. And still others become the group cynic so as to demonstrate to the group that they are the one on the team who is always smart enough to find the flaws. With a smug attitude, they will more often than not find a way to throw a monkey wrench into the works at every bend of the road.
One of the easiest-to-spot characteristics of a true Gloomy Gus is their lack of initiative and hardy activity. They don’t see either as part their role and function. No, for them sitting back and casting doubt is their priority. Dealing with them can be at best a perpetual distraction, and at worst an ongoing impediment to any meaningful progress, particularly if they are in a leadership position. Like the proverbial bad apple, they can spoil the whole bunch, if the group allows it to happen. By the way, if your group, team, or family does not have at least one of these characters, take a good look at yourself—it may just be you!
Although effectively dealing with a Gloomy Gus can be a challenge for any team or group, the first and most important step is to void buying into their perpetual sense of doom and gloom. You may not be able to change them, but just like Happy Hooligan, you need not buy into their ongoing sense of despair.