How to manage a negative employee

7 steps you can take to deal with negativity

A negative employee can infect a work group or team with negativity faster than you can imagine. I’ve suggested how employees can deal with a negativeneg B coworker in an earlier article. Sometimes their efforts are successful.
But, since employees are not skilled, trained, or comfortable at handling negativity or conflict, they often turn to their manager for help in dealing with the negative coworker.
This is not the most pleasant component of a manager’s job, but if you manage people, you will eventually encounter a situation in which you need to manage a negative person – for the sake of your other employees and the team.

You can manage a negative employee – and sometimes, you can help the employee turn the negativity around. Your best approach is to not let the negativity get started in the first place, but if it’s already creating destruction in your workplace, here are steps that you can take.

If the negativity emanates from a single individual, you can:
•Inform the employee about the negative impact her negativity is having on coworkers and the department. Use specific examples that describe behaviors the employee can do something about.
For example, when another employee says, “Good morning, how are you?” and your response is a 15 minute monologue on how nothing is right in this workplace, you bring your coworker’s mood and optimism down. You use up 15 minutes of productive work time and make your coworker unwilling to engage you in conversation in the future.

•Avoid becoming defensive. Don’t take the employee’s negative words or attitude personally. They are not directed at you. For whatever reason, the employee is unhappy with his or her life.
No one likes hearing constructive feedback even when a manager uses the best, most practiced, approach to minimize the employee’s defensiveness. And, the majority of managers have not had a lot of training and practice in dealing with difficult people, so their approach is uncomfortable for all parties.

•Ask the employee if something negative is happening in her personal life that is affecting her workplace success. For example, a divorce affects every aspect of an employee’s life. You’re not a therapist or counselor but knowing lets you offer sympathy or another appropriate expression. It can also help the employee see that you are interested in and concerned about them as a person. You must ask the employee to keep the personal issues from affecting workplace performance.

neb C•Ask the employee what is causing his negativity at work. Listen to the employee’s complaints and concerns until you’re certain that the employee feels heard out and listened to. Sometimes people repeat negative sentiments because they don’t feel as if you have really heard them. Make sure that you have actively listened.
Some of the employee’s concerns may be legitimate. You may be able to help him solve legitimate workplace concerns. Others, you may be able to explain why they exist and ask the employee to cooperate and have patience. Once the employee understands the timeline or the reason for the goal, his negativity may improve.

•Focus on creating solutions.
Don’t focus on everything that is wrong and negative about the employee’s outlook or actions in your approach.
Focus instead on creating options for how the employee can create positive morale for himself and his coworkers. If the person is unwilling to hold this discussion, and you feel you have fairly heard him out, end the discussion.

•Focus on the positive aspects of her performance and the potential contributions the individual brings to the work setting, not the negativity. Help the employee build her self-image and capacity to contribute.

•In the future, when interacting with the employee, try to compliment the individual any time you hear a positive statement or contribution rather than negativity from her. You’ll want to reinforce, as much as possible, the positive interactions the employee has with other employees and the workplace.

If none of the above is working and the employee’s negativity continues to have an impact on productivity, workplace harmony, and department members’ attitudes and morale, deal with the negativity as you would any other performance issue with progressive discipline.

Source:, November 2014
Author: Susan M. Heathfield
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