How to Manage Negative Employees
7 steps to create a more positive work culture.
Persistent workplace negativity impacts morale, innovation, and team culture.
Recognizing the psychological underpinnings of negativity helps to address the causes of it.
Managers can counter negativity through specific interventions and open dialogue.
Have you ever run across someone who is perpetually negative? They might consistently say things like “You can’t do that,” “That won’t work,” and other de-motivating statements. They might use body language and facial expressions that zap energy from their team. Their very presence in a meeting makes others feel on edge.
The presence of a consistently negative employee can undermine the performance of a team and lead to decreased morale, lower productivity, and potential long-term damage to team culture. So how do you support this type of employee while also ensuring their behavior doesn’t negatively impact your team and organization?
The Psychology of Negativity
Consistent negativity in the workplace often finds its roots in a complex interplay of psychological factors. Burnout can lead people to express frustrations through negativity when they feel overwhelmed, unappreciated, or excessively burdened. External stressors from personal life, such as financial difficulties or family discord, can impact an individual's mood and behavior at work, potentially driving them to adopt a consistently negative outlook as a coping mechanism.
Unresolved conflicts and misunderstandings between employees can also play a role in creating patterns of negativity. Instead of addressing problems directly, people may become passive-aggressive, which takes the form of negativity. For some, personality traits like cynicism or a natural predisposition toward pessimism can lead to consistent negativity.
Managers can address negativity in their teams and in meetings through a psychological lens, helping individuals address the root cause of their negativity and, as a result, fostering a more positive, supportive, and innovative work environment.
The Impact of Negativity
Negativity in meetings can manifest in various forms, from constant criticism and cynicism to dismissive remarks and resistance to new ideas. While a healthy dose of "creative tension" or "healthy conflict" can stimulate innovative thinking and better decision-making, unchecked negativity can erode team cohesion and harm relationships.
The psychological toll of negativity on a team can take various forms including these:
Cultural contagion: Negativity tends to spread like wildfire. When one team member consistently expresses pessimism, others may follow suit, creating a culture of cynicism.
Emotional drain: Constant negativity can emotionally drain both the individual and those around them, affecting overall team morale and well-being.
Lack of psychological safety: Negative comments can discourage others from sharing their ideas and being vulnerable, which hinders innovation and limits problem-solving potential.
Disengagement: Negative environments are less productive, as they often involve disputes and distractions, which leads to general disengagement.
7 Ways to Address Negativity and Create a Positive Work Culture
Managers of negative employees can be empathetic and supportive while also working to reduce the negativity. Practical strategies include the following:
Have private discussions. Start by having a private conversation with the negative employee. Use active listening and empathy to understand their concerns and motivations. Ask open-ended questions to encourage them to express themselves.
Provide constructive feedback. Share the specific negative behaviors like statements and body language that you have seen recently. Offer concrete examples of how their negativity has impacted team dynamics and outcomes. Discuss alternative ways to express their concerns constructively.
Set clear expectations. Clearly define the behavior you expect in meetings and group settings. Emphasize the importance of respectful communication and open-mindedness in achieving team goals.
Empower self-reflection. Encourage the employee to self-reflect on their negativity's impact on their own well-being and career growth. Discuss the importance of emotional intelligence in professional development.
Intervene with facilitation. During meetings, intervene when negative comments arise. Acknowledge the employee's perspective while steering the conversation toward constructive solutions. Use positive reinforcement when they contribute positively.
Cultivate a supportive culture. Promote a culture of appreciation and recognition within the team. Encourage team members to express gratitude for each other's contributions. Highlight examples of positive behavior in meetings.
Follow up. Regularly check in with the employee to assess their progress. Recognize and celebrate their efforts to contribute positively. Address any setbacks constructively.
Addressing negativity in meetings offers more than just interpersonal benefits; it also translates into concrete advantages for any organization. In a positive atmosphere, team members work together more cohesively, engaging in more productive discussions that lead to better outcomes. An open and affirming environment nurtures creative thinking and inventive problem-solving, fostering a culture of continuous innovation. With meetings that are more focused and efficient, valuable time and resources are saved, contributing to improved overall productivity. Moreover, employees are more inclined to remain loyal to organizations that prioritize their well-being and cultivate a positive culture.
Addressing negativity is a strategic step toward driving tangible business results. Managers who approach this issue from a psychological standpoint can create a nurturing culture that fuels innovation, productivity, and sustainable success.
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