In large companies as well as small, I’ve found that people who are consistently negative and complain are a big constraint on productivity, as well as the most difficult management problem that most business leaders face.
The challenge is to get negative people to see themselves as part of the problem, rather than the solution.
If you are one of these people, you probably also don’t realize that for you personally, negativity has serious consequences for your mental and physical health, as well as the health of your company. Perhaps you just see it as “venting,” and rationalize that by getting your emotions out, you will feel better, and everyone else will finally see you as the victim of the real problem.
As a business advisor today, I find that even seasoned managers and executives are frustrated by this phenomenon, and often ask me how they can correct it, or even prevent it.
I have to admit that I have no magic formula, but I do offer the following recommendations from experience to get you started and minimize negativity in both employee teams and all levels of management:
1. Make yourself a consistent example of positivity.
Whether you are the company CEO, or a stock room clerk, you can make a difference by refusing to succumb to the negativity of others around you. Offer positive solutions to your business challenges, rather than just highlighting the problem, assigning blame, or delivering angry diatribes.
If you are unsure of what you can do to keep a positive mindset, don’t hesitate to ask for some personal coaching with experts in this area, or review advice on positive habits that will make your life better, as well as make you a role model for other people.
2. As a leader, publicly reward positive feedback.
This means highlighting positive contributions to the whole team, as well as in performance reviews and bonus reports. It also means providing private and specific feedback to people with a negative attitude, since many do not see themselves as others see them. They may really want to change.
Zappos, for example, has earned global accolades for their strategic “Zappos dollars” peer-to-peer recognition program, where employees share low-cost, high-frequency rewards with each other. The result is a positive and productive work environment for all.
3. Administer regular morale and satisfaction surveys.
Proactively look for signs that negativity is impacting morale and productivity in your organization, and use the survey and follow-up to credibly identify specific sources and people to counsel. Do not publicly call out specific people, but provide private feedback and coaching to negative offenders.
The three most relevant types of employee surveys include employee satisfaction surveys, employee culture surveys, and employee engagement surveys. With senior management support, all of these can be developed and administered by your HR team.
4. Remove or retrain repeat offenders on a timely basis.
How quickly and effectively you deal with people who won’t or can’t change will be the best message you can send to others. Some negative or angry people may just be a bad fit for your company, while others may just be dealing with personal problems, where a job adjustment is required.
Failure to deal with consistently negative employees only exacerbates the problem and the impact on your business. Some experts have estimated that the cost of keeping the wrong person for a given organization can be up to fifteen times his or her annual salary.
5. Hire only people with positive and can-do attitudes.
Resumes are good for prior experience assessment and relevant skills, but indicate very little about attitudes and work style. Use the interview process and really listen to responses. It’s easy to spot negativity and complainers, which should be a major red flag in every hiring process.
In fact, many experts believe that hiring for attitude is more important than hiring for skill. They believe that focusing on a candidate’s softer qualities is better for your company in the long term, as you can’t anticipate the hard skills you will need in the future anyway.
Your coaching to marginal employees should include the fact that optimists lead more satisfying lives, personally as well as professionally. Negativity also tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, which will impact your ability to do your job well and reap the rewards. Now is the time to do your own self-assessment, and adopt the positive habits you need to succeed.
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