We have all had it happen. You start your day thinking life is pretty good. But after a run in with Toxic Tommy you suddenly find yourself believing you might be the only intelligent being on the planet. Worse, that negative fungus spreads. Soon everyone around you seems to be bemoaning how horrible things are and how there is no hope for change. Your team has a bad apple and he/she is leaching your potential.
All is not lost. You do not have to allow Cynical Sally to trash your morale and ideas or those of your team. You do have options. Here is a quick look at what you can and can’t control and where you can make changes to inoculate yourself against the spores of pessimism.
Step 1 Identify the source – This sounds like it should be simple. However, it is important to know if the person you are dealing with is really generating negativity or if they particularly bad about spreading gloom and doom they pick up elsewhere. Generating is harder to stop.
Step 2 Listen to what they are saying – This is counterintuitive. Usually we think we should ignore people who bring us down. But this time, rather than just listening to how bad they think everything is and agreeing with them, listen to specifically what they are complaining about. Is there anything that could be a legitimate issue that needs to be resolved? It is easy to write off everything as garbage. But when your team has a nagging problem, you are going to hear about it from the “town crier” first. So ignore the emotion for a moment, listen to the content and make them feel heard. Is there something that really needs fixing? Great! That is something you can work with.
Step 3 Ask for solutions – This is where the rubber meets the road so-to-speak. If you really have a Negative Nancy or a Miserable Mike on your hands you are going to get more of the “woe is me, there is nothing to be done” attitude when you start asking about ideas for solutions. If you have a team player who has not been feeling heard (and therefore keeps repeating the same negative stuff and bemoaning the lack of a solution) they will jump at the chance to develop a plan to make things better. Heaven knows they have thought about it enough to make suggestions.
Step 4 Take the person aside and talk – Sometimes negative people don’t realize the affect they are having on their team members. Pointing it out and asking them to stop can be very effective. If they are really unaware of their detrimental attitude, agree upon a nonintrusive way to point it out. I worked with a team who had this issue they agreed on the word “stress”. When a member of the team started on a downward spiral someone on the team would say “You seem really stressed about that”. This was their signal to the person that they were headed into toxicity.
Step 5(a) Throw in the towel – If you have tried all of the options and see no improvement, it might be time to accept that you really do have a toxic person on your hands and they don’t want to change. I worked with a consultant once who said people like that needed to be sold happiness somewhere else. “Things are so bad here. No doubt they are better somewhere else. Please go seek them.” If you are lucky your toxic person will move on to ‘greener’ pastures.
Step 5(b) Inoculation – If Pessimistic Peter/Disparaging Donna doesn’t change, won’t leave and until you can move him/her on, it is important to keep the negativity from affecting you and your team as much as possible. The best way to do that is to realize what is happening and deliberately decide not to let him/her bring you down. Talk about it with your team. Work toward change on the things you can control, work around or with the things you can’t and do your best to ignore people who wallow in trying to do the opposite.
Do you have experience with a toxic person? What kinds of symptoms are you and your team experiencing? How is the situation being handled? Leave us a comment!
Next week: Micromanaging is bad for everybody!
Did you miss last week? Go back and think about if you can really explain who you are to someone else effectively here.