Category Archives: How do you manage negative attitudes in the workplace?

How to Deal with Negative People at Work

Bonnie Milne, PhD

Bonnie Milne, PhD

This blog post was written in response to the Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How do you manage negative attitudes in the workplace?”

We have all encountered people who stay in an organization for years, all the while complaining on a daily basis about their boss, the organization, their colleagues, their clients – it tires me out just thinking about it! But, how do we improve the situation?

First of all, it’s important to remember that complaints, much as we may not want to hear them, sometimes unearth legitimate issues. I remember reading once that it is better to have an employee who criticises the organization because it means they care about the quality of the people and the product. Perhaps this is one of the keys. At the risk of sounding like I am wearing my rose coloured glasses – well, maybe I am, but you can’t see me – I think it is possible to redirect the complaints into plans.

The danger seems to be in falling into the trap of responding to a complaint with another complaint – competing complaints – one-upmanship of the worst kind – “ Well, you think that’s bad – let me tell you….” You get the picture.

What if we respond with a question? Perhaps we could ask what the best solution to the problem would be –or what could the person complaining do to improve the situation. I love the way our brains respond to a question! It is as if they are programmed to answer any question thrown their way. So by asking a question you will have redirected the conversation instead of adding fuel to the fire.

Another technique; this one learned from Don Pinkham who I worked with at BCAA, calls for asking the person what the next step is. So, for example – when your colleague comes up with a solution – ask her what the next step is, or perhaps, what the first step is. Follow this up by asking if there is anything you can do. Quite often the answer will be that there is nothing she wants you to do.
I like this technique because it places the onus on my colleague and leaves me knowing that there is nothing expected of me. On the other hand if I’m asked to do something – I can consider it. Either way, I have broken the cycle – at least for the moment.

I came across this ‘no complaining rule’ in The No Complaining Rule: Positive Ways to Deal with Negativity at Work written by Jon Gordon in 2008. http://www.jongordon.com/thenocomplainingrule.html

Employees are not allowed to mindlessly complain to their coworkers. If they have a problem or complaint about their job, their company, their customer, or anything else, they are encouraged to bring the issue to their manager or someone who is in a position to address the complaint. However, the employees must share one or two possible solutions to their complaint as well.
This rule puts the onus on management to work with negative employees, but the message is the same. Colleagues who complain should be asked to come up with solutions. This turns the conversation around and that is, after all, what we want. And, it seems to me that every employee can be part of the solution.

So, we can deal with the issue of negative employees ourselves or try to implement a process in our organization. Although I would prefer the latter, sometimes we don’t have the power to change the organization, but we always have the power to change our response and that is a good starting point.

How to Welcome Negative Attitudes in the Workplace

This blog post was written in response to the Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How do you manage negative attitudes in the workplace?”

Gareth Cartman

Gareth Cartman

Imagine a world without negativity. Smiles everywhere, acquiescence everywhere. You’ve got an idea? It’s a great one! Let’s do it!

In a world free of negativity, we’d do everything. We’d never question anything, we’d just get on with things, and do them. Yay! Positivity! Hurrah for positivity.

But after a while, things start to go wrong. That idea that nobody questioned, that project that everyone thought was going to go brilliantly – well it all went badly awry. But hey, we’re all positive and we bumble on, smiling happily, until the whole company falls around us and we smile on into our next jobs.

Without negative attitudes, all of this will happen – you have been warned.

Of course, this is a small exaggeration. Without positivity, nothing would ever get done. Positive attitudes are good. However, the negativity is what makes us question what we’re doing, and if we can’t make good of this negativity within our workplaces, we’ll never see the potential pitfalls in what we’re doing.

Few businesses realise the potential in negativity. They attempt to manage negative attitudes out of the workplace, or beat some positivity into them. Hey, wear a smile! Not happening.

I believe there’s a better way of handling negativity, of turning it around for the greater good. Let’s break it down into the different types of negativity, and see how we can get more out of negative attitudes in the workplace:

I hate my job but I’m not leaving it

 Now, we’ve started at the extreme, but let’s not dismiss it. A quit-stay has the potential to spread dissatisfaction around the business, and a quit-stay has to be turfed out at the very first possible opportunity. I can say that. I’m not in HR.

Nevertheless, you can at the very least glean some vital information about the way your business is run. What is the reason for dissatisfaction? Is it that person’s eternally negative personality? In which case, you have questions about your recruitment processes to answer. Is it line management or colleagues? Is it something stemming from the employee’s personal life?

There’s nothing that you can’t manage, one way or another. Problems at home can’t be resolved at work, but work can go some way to helping address those issues. No company can’t afford an employee assistance programme of some form or another – they’re cheaper than a Chinese takeaway at their most basic. It’s a no-brainer.

This project will never work

 I always like to surround myself with people who question, people who doubt. Those who say “this will never work”, even when it appears to be working.

They might be wrong – but at least they question the workings of a system. They question the processes, they question the results, they question how the results were obtained. There is never a right answer for them, and these negative attitudes may be construed as unhelpful by many businesses. I view them as the most helpful views of all.

You don’t have to take them at their word, but you should listen to them carefully. Their opinions are very often considered, thought through, and worthwhile – they’ve explored every angle, and they see the problems that you might not have seen.

I’m not doing this

 You might get frustrated by employees who act like three-year-olds, but like every three-year-old, there’s a reason behind their negativity. Here’s an opportunity, therefore, to sharpen up your act.

Why are they refusing to participate? Why are they not doing as you asked? There’s a chance that they haven’t fully understood why you’re asking them to do things, or that maybe, they just don’t agree with it. We’re not kids, we can have grown-up discussions and air our views, we don’t have to continually do everything we’re told to do in exchange for our monthly salary, do we?

Blindly believing that everyone will continually follow every order is naive, at best. A negative attitude may reflect on the way you’re managing that person, and can be managed better.

So – negative attitudes in the workplace. Perhaps it’s time to be more positive about them?

Managing Negative Attitudes in the Workplace

This blog post was written in response to the Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How do you manage negative attitudes in the workplace?”

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Negative Nancy and Negative Neil. I’m sure the majority of us can agree that we have come across one (or a few) in our careers. Now how do you properly manage their negative attitudes in the workplace? Before you answer “get rid of them”, as some managers commonly respond, let me ask you this: Are they really the problem? Nine times out of ten – No.

In my experience, a negative attitude is a result of one or more underlying sources. Of course, you cannot solve these issues without fully understanding them. How we do that is to dissect them. In our case, your first step is to identify the source. Your second step is then to develop ways in which to manage negative attitudes accordingly.

Identifying the Source of Negative Attitudes

It can be very difficult to understand negative attitudes without first discussing why these feelings exist. I suggest you start by having an open and honest discussion with the employee exhibiting negative behaviour. At this time, it is important to remember three (3) things:

  1. Give specific examples of the negative attitude(s) or behaviour observed over time,
  2. Use probing questions to identify what is causing the negative attitude and how any unresolved issues can become resolved, and
  3. Use active listening skills to clarify both the employee’s and the employer’s responsibilities moving forward.

If you use the above approaches, it becomes much easier to understand negative behaviour, and opens the floor to collaborative problem solving. Here, you want to discuss how the source can be improved (or best managed).

As you can imagine, or have seen first-hand as I have, negativity in the workplace can have dramatic affects on employee performance, the performance of colleagues and the profitability of an organization. Some sources you may have uncovered in your workplace include dissatisfaction or unhappiness with performance evaluations, leadership or management, working conditions, organizational practices or personal challenges. A negative attitude can also be the result of a misunderstanding or lack of information.

Managing Negative Attitudes

Although there are many sources of negative attitudes, I can attest to the fact that your strategy in approaching them must start with communication and follow up. To be clear, managing negative attitudes and their sources highly depends on your commitment to communicate with employees on a regular basis, to offer timely actions that improve the situation (i.e. follow up), and involving them in the process.

During my 6 years of experience as a stand-alone human resources professional in both the construction and manufacturing industry, I have encountered a colourful array of positive and negative attitudes. By far, the most common issue is dissatisfaction with performance management – “the continuous process of identifying, measuring and developing the performance of individuals and teams and aligning performance with the strategic goals of the organization” (Aguinis, 2009). Contacts who work in other industries have also asked me how they should deal with or manage similar issues with performance management systems of their own.

It is important to note here that there are several advantages to having a performance management system. These include increased motivation, self-esteem, and commitment; clarified expectations and organizational goals; organizational change; and timely differentiation between good and poor performers. However, many disadvantages can arise if a performance management system is poorly developed, implemented and/or maintained. An inadequate system can result in increased turnover, the use of misleading information, lowered self-esteem, wasted time and money, damaged relationships, decreased motivation, employee burnout and job dissatisfaction, unjustified demands from managers and employees, unfair standards and ratings, emerging biases and unclear rating systems (Aguinis, 2009). Do any of these drawbacks sound familiar?

Finally; no matter how many cases I have come across, the number one complaint is that employees feel their performance is not being assessed or documented correctly, or being evaluated consistently (if at all). Without fail, those feelings caused many employees to exhibit negative attitudes in the workplace. My advice in improving these  attitudes was (1) to obtain employee feedback through communication, (2) to seriously consider employee feedback, (3) to make changes wherever possible, and (4) to involve employees in the progression of change. In time, my advice helped managers develop new assessment tools (using employee feedback), better training for evaluators and evaluation schedules, and held managers more accountable. To everyone’s surprise (but my own), turnover became retention, attitudes were more positive and employees showed higher productivity – making the organization more successful.

So, to answer the question “How do you properly manage negative attitudes in the workplace?” I say, make a commitment to communicate with your staff, to take action in a timely manner, and to involve them in the process.

An article by: Sandy Arseneault, BBA  CHRP

 

Works Cited

Aguinis, H. (2009). Performance Management (2nd Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.