Managing Negative Employees

eeyore_by_buildthemskywards-d4x4808(Published in Huffington Post)

Oh no. You can hear them coming down the hall and are wishing you could hide under your desk. Being on a team project with them can feel like there’s no escaping them. You know who I’m talking about: the nay-sayers and folks who seem to go around thinking there’s a contest to be won for complaining or seeing the worst out of every situation.

I remember a friend’s husband being one of the most negative people I have ever met. If you said the sun was shining, he’d start talking about global warming. Any idea you had that made you feel inspired and motivated, he could throw cold water on it and prove to you why it would not work and the plain pointlessness of it all.

My friend was the polar opposite and it didn’t bother her at all because she valued his solutions. She explained to me that because her husband was an engineer, he had to be able to predict problems and could figure out what to do. Unfortunately, he had taken it to a level where every solution, every positive plan was discouragingly flawed. Over time, this had become his natural state of mind.

Sometimes at work, when big projects are happening or changes that are out of our control are going on, this can trigger anxiety in someone who is always on the lookout for the boogie man. A colleague’s negativity can create a toxic soup that takes on a life of its own. They are in their fight-flight-freeze mode that we’ve all heard about. Basically, they are stressed and expressing it unhelpfully.Fight Flight or Freeze

It is frustrating that’s for sure. But beyond the frustration it is also destructive to your creativity and productivity. You need to be able to protect yourself from those “Negative Nellies” and find ways of feeding your positivity and happiness.

Here’s the great thing about people who complain. Sometimes they are right! I’d rather see a doctor who looks for problems (without dragging me down) than a doctor who minimizes everything and dismisses it. I’ll bet you they have better outcomes for their patients.

We can’t surround ourselves with Suzy Sunshines and think that everything will be okay. We do need these deep thinkers who can sound the alarm from time to time. However, we do have to manage them a little bit or they’ll drag us down.

Here are 3 things you can do:

1.Compassion and Validation

Think of gloomy Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh and how they love him despite his “never be happy attitude”. Learning how to validate another person’s feelings is very difficult because we believe that we are agreeing with their feelings. But it is not.

Feeling compassion for another person’s feelings and telling them that you see their position takes them out of the fight-flight-freeze mode. Otherwise, they need to defend it. Alternatively, saying “I recognize you have this feeling” is like saying “I see you”. Let’s face it; nobody wants to be dismissed as a person.

2. Ask for a behavior change

Once you validate their concern, can you see how much easier it will be to ask them to stop being negative around you? Expressing our own feelings and the impact that their gloom and doom is having on us will be better received if we have heard them. Without attacking them as a person, without moralizing, we can identify how their behavior is affecting us.

Imagine you have just told this person: “You are worried that this will not turn out right because you see all these negative possibilities. Did I get you?” And they suddenly feel seen. You thank them for sharing their concerns.

Then you tell them that you are feeling distracted by this language that is happening on a daily basis. You point out that you need to keep this project moving forward without focusing only on negative outcomes but rather on what can work. After all, you are sure that you can both agree with the fact that we only have a finite amount of energy to put onto things. Therefore, the bulk of your collective energy should be on positive things that move the project in the right direction.

3.Time to complain

Asking them to just put a lid on it may help you in your own positivity and productivity but it can eventually explode for them. The antidote is to set up time to discuss and brainstorm around problems they may encounter. This is very powerful with negative people who are walking around like a grenade with the pin pulled. They need that space where they know they will have an opportunity to complain or express their negativity.

The healthy compromise is to simply set up a time where they get to express their concerns. The advantage is that you can mentally prepare yourself to be open to hearing them. Rewarding yourself with a massage afterwards is optional but highly encouraged. 🙂

The truth is that my friend was right. Being able to predict problems before they happen is a good quality in a person. It helps us make a better mousetrap. Our challenge is finding a balance between their cynical observations and our collective need to keep up our spirits for optimum creativity and success.

So make sure to also identify the people around you who make you feel fabulous and empowered and spend a lot of brainstorming time with them. Creativity, positivity and a collegial atmosphere increase success. Success is easier to achieve when you’re having fun.

If you are having trouble telling a person to change a frustrating behavior, be sure to check out my handy dandy 4 step script.

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