Addressing negativity can be complex, because negativity and disagreement are often confused. It is helpful to have someone express opposing view, so flaws can be addressed, but if we try to stamp outall negativity, we will give the impression that the only correct opinion is our own. When this happens, some people may stop providing valuable feedback and information.
On the other hand, if not properly handled, negativity can be harmful to a team, department, or organization. Negativity is like a weed, and if weeds aren’t dealt with, they spread. In a group setting, negativity can severely decrease morale, productivity, and effectiveness. The following techniques can help you address negativity in your group.
1. Acknowledge the person being negative with a sincere and appropriate compliment.
Sometimes people are negative, because they don’t feel appreciated. In other words, negativity can actually be a cry for attention. Acknowledge the person for something that you appreciate about them and see what happens.
2. Point out the negativity.
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Many people don’t realize they are being negative. Often, they think they are simply being honest and helpful. Point out how they are coming across and the effect their words and attitude are having on the group. If they rarely say anything positive or offer potential solutions, let them know that as well. If this person does not agree with your perspective, ask them to keep track of how many criticisms versus solutions they offer in a week. Or, you could keep track. This depends on your position. Obviously, if you are the person’s manager, you have the authority and responsibility to proactively resolve the situation, and others on the team probably want you to do so.
3. Facilitate a solution.
Helping this person come up with a solution is especially important when you are in a meeting. The key part of this strategy is to ask, “What would you suggest?” It is difficult for someone to continue to be negative when you consistently ask, “What would you suggest?” This takes the focus off of the past and makes the discussion more positive and solution-focused.
4. Coach them if they are willing to look at things in a different way.
Someone who is negative often wants to change but doesn’t know how. If this is the case, you can coach them. But first, you must gauge their degree of openness. Start by asking the person if they are open to the possibility of seeing the situation differently. You may even ask if they are open to the possibility that they may be wrong. If they indicate they are not open, you may want to move on and not waste your time. Interestingly enough, sometimes by merely asking that question, the person examines their behavior and becomes open to other points of view. If they are open, then give them your perspective and advice. If they are willing, then make sure your coaching provides tangible, specific actions and accountability, if they so choose.
5. Allow them to say their piece and then move on.
This technique is especially important in a meeting when the person is not open to another point of view. Remember that other people usually want you to move on; most of us aren’t interested in getting caught up in a negativity battle. After something negative is said, move on by saying something like, “For the sake of time, let’s move on. Our next point is…” Use this technique selectively. If you just move on, you run the risk of the person tuning you out and possibly becoming disruptive for the remainder of the meeting.
6. Choose to avoid people who are negative.
Choose to spend time with people who have attitudes you admire. It is amazing how often people allow themselves to be around people with lousy attitudes. If you cannot control who surrounds you, try to limit the time you spend with them. For example, if a co-worker starts complaining about the work environment or another person, politely excuse yourself from the conversation.
While an opposing point of view can be helpful, persistent negativity never is. Constant negativity can affect our emotions and waste our time. But now you have the steps to take action. The question is, what are you going to do about it?
If you get stuck or have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.