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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Oct 20, 2023


Negativity can really impact a team’s motivation and performance. This week we explore how to manage a persistently negative team member.



Hello and welcome to episode 206 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we share practical tips to improve your leadership. This week we explore how to manage a persistently negative team member.

Having a negative person on your team can be really draining. The tendency to always point out the downside and limitations can drag others down and reduce motivation. It can be a difficult situation to address. We don’t want to shut down criticism or pretend that everything is perfect, and we don’t want to respond in a way that makes them feel like they don’t belong. However, we also don’t want to become trapped in negativity that can impact others’ enthusiasm and commitment. Here are some tips that will help you to manage a persistently negative team member:

  1. Don’t assume it will get better with time. Negativity doesn’t tend to go away. In fact, the more you allow it to take hold, the more it can grow within the team. You need to address unreasonable negativity early. Just hoping it will get better by itself is not going to work.
  2. Don’t assume it’s all about work. Often the person who complains the most at work may also be facing challenges outside of work. An honest conversation can help address this.
  3. Provide feedback on impact. Look for examples of negativity from the team member and provide feedback as soon as possible. You want to clearly anchor the feedback in a specific situation, and provide insight into the impact of the person’s actions on you and others. For example, “during the meeting earlier today when you described our new project as a waste of time that will never work, I saw several people look discouraged, and I felt like your comments made the project even harder to achieve”.
  4. Explore their intent. Oftentimes our intent is not the same as our impact. In my earlier example, the person describing the project as a waste of time may not have intended to discourage others. They may have intended to express some concerns about the feasibility of the project. Once the person is aware of the impact of their approach, helping them to share their intent will provide you with greater context.
  5. Help them to reframe. Once the person is clear on their intent, you can help them to achieve their desired impact. You might work through options of how they could express their concerns in a constructive way. For example, “I have some concerns about how feasible this project is. Can we discuss people’s views on that, and how we might make our goals achievable?”. This is likely to have a much more positive impact, while still addressing their original intent. In this way their negativity can be transformed into a super power that actually helps the team.
  6. Listen for kernels of truth. It could well be that the project isn’t feasible. Just because something is expressed in a negative or damaging way doesn’t mean there isn’t some truth to what they’re saying. Asking probing questions to explore their perspective can help draw out a new perspective in a more positive and actionable way.
  7. Recognise improvement. Look for examples of the person expressing things in more constructive ways and provide positive encouraging feedback to the individual. It’s always important to notice and appreciate efforts to grow and improve.

Negativity is contagious and challenging to manage. Engaging with the person sharing negative views can help turn them around, and provide them with more positive ways of making an important contribution to the team. Have a great week.


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