Question on negative people: “I have an employee who seems to delight in being a naysayer.  Although he is an excellent worker, and I would hate to lose him, his negative personality has an adverse effect on the team.  What should I do? 

Labeling the individual or their personality as the problem limits our options to firing them because we cannot fundamentally change the lifetime of conditioning that created their personality.  Therefore, the first step in dealing with negativity is shifting our thinking to focus on the problem behavior, not the person.  

When we focus on the problem of the difficult behavior, we begin to develop strategies and employ techniques that address the specific conduct.  The challenge is to identify reasons for the negative behavior, and the only way to do that is through open, honest, respectful communication.  

Additionally, we need to look at what we are doing to reinforce that behavior.  Some people crave attention, and we reward the “squeaky wheel” by giving them that.  This perpetuates the problem and limits the problem-solving. 

Here are some tips for addressing these behaviors: 

  • Ask specific questions that give the person an opportunity to discuss reasons for their behavior and what they see as desired outcomes
  • Listen to their fears, challenges, and suggestions
  • Coach and model appropriate problem-solving behaviors
  • Encourage respectful communication without fear of retribution
  • Provide constructive feedback that helps individuals become self-actualized 

Ultimately, when we identify and address the problematic behavior, rather than label the person as negative or having a ‘difficult personality”, we open the door to collaborative problem-solving.