That Negative Voice in Your Team

elephants fighting

Having been labelled in a previous life as the “difficult employee”, I’m writing from a new perspective on how to deal with those challenging, negative complainers. Years ago, while working, I would attempt to bring up things that weren’t working. I often had some ideas for solutions, but these suggestions were never explored because of my negativity. Or, in retrospect, was it because of the defensiveness of my superiors? Perhaps both!

There are several reasons that people can show up as negative and complaining. Here are some possibilities:

  1. They are aware of a key problem that, like the elephant in the room, is not being talked about. So when it’s brought up, you need to be an open and approachable leader to really listen and not become defensive.
  2. They’ve attempted to share the concern and felt shut down. This may be caused by not feeling heard, by being labelled as difficult or because they are uncomfortable with confrontation.
  3. Leaders are defensive about something and not open to new information or feedback. Sometimes when leaders are overwhelmed with stress, shutting down listening skills is an unconscious strategy to cope.
  4. They need coaching on how to share concerns. They may lack the assertiveness required to share in a constructive manner.
  5. The individual is unhappy in their role, the culture isn’t a good fit or they are simply a complainer who sees the glass as half empty.

The challenge is determining what type of “difficult” or “negative” employee they are. Here are three tips on uncovering what’s really happening for that individual:

  1. Set up a one to one meeting with the individual. Become curious and ask questions to uncover their point of view fully. Consider that they may have some valuable information for you.
  2. Breathe, really listen and repeat back the content (not the delivery) of what you have heard. Remain calm and own any defensiveness that you experience.
  3. Ask how the individual would like to see things done differently. This shifts into solution finding. What action would they like to take on it? This helps encourage personal responsibility. What supports do they need to shift to solution finding and personal responsibility? And finally, what would they like to see you do differently?

Often by really being listened to, the person will be able to be coached on their delivery and show up in a more constructive manner. If this doesn’t work, and the individual continues to complain and be difficult, you will need to shift into holding the person accountable for their behaviour. By investigating with an open mind, you can have a positive impact on your team dynamics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>