The Do’s and Don’ts of Managing a Negative Employee

23 May 2017


Did you have someone in mind when you opened this article? Don’t worry, most of us do at some point! The challenge to manage a negative employee can seem like a confrontation but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you overcome the challenge.

Which will work for you?

DON’T dismiss or ignore the negative behaviour

Negativity is part of human nature, but if your employee is negative for a significant period of time, that's when it becomes a management issue. People aren't always aware of how they come across so the first step you have to make, is to acknowledge the behaviour. When you don’t challenge a negative attitude, you enable it. In the end, that boils down to poor leadership, and your team will not thank you for it.

DON’T make the issue about the person, make it about the behaviour

When you confront a negative employee, don’t make it about them. Make it about the behaviour and use an example. Pick one or two behaviours to address only. Otherwise, it will sound like a rant. Never tell a person they are negative, that will cause a confrontation and have a little productive impact. Bring up a particular action and explain how that behaviour can be perceived. For example, ‘I’ve noticed that you sigh a lot, that makes me feel like you are exasperated about something? What do you think is behind this? What can I do to help?’

DON’T forget to set a performance review date

Whenever you address an issue with the purpose of implementing change (in this case a change of attitude) you need to set a review date. This puts a turnaround time on the issue and people work harder when they know there is going to be a follow-up. Check if you have accomplished what you set out to overcome in the first meeting. Address what has gone right so far and what hasn’t.

DO be aware that their behaviour could be a reflection of your own behaviour

Have you ever confronted someone about their behaviour only for them to accuse you of the very same thing? 'Mirroring' is a very powerful psychology where we unconsciously mimic the behaviours of others. We aren’t always aware of how our own behaviour affects other people. Are you absolutely certain you aren’t exhibiting negative behaviours yourself? The only way to find out is to get feedback. Ask questions like ‘How can the different ways we work together be improved? What communication technique do you respond to best? How do you feel I could listen to you better?’

DO reinforce positive behaviours

The seemingly logical thing to do is to highlight negative behaviour as it happens. However, positive reinforcement is even more powerful. Make a point to highlight positive behaviours exactly when they happen. Include all positive behaviour including a good piece of work or something they said in a meeting. Maybe they gave you a cheerful greeting, respond back warmly to reinforce that behaviour and add something like ‘love your energy today!’

DO remind them that attitude is a choice

A person’s normal reaction to being told they have a bad attitude is to blame the situation. How you feel about a situation is less within your control but your attitude towards how you deal with it is your choice. For example, if your employee's attitude is down to a personal problem, show compassion, empathy and how you are going to help them manage it at work, without disregarding the behaviour.

DO turn their complaints into constructive feedback

If a negative employee is incessantly moaning, tell them that you welcome their feedback and that you’d like to address it in a weekly/monthly meeting. The next time they moan, tell them to add that concern to the next meeting. This will suggest that you are interested in addressing their concerns but most importantly, protect yourself and your colleagues from ongoing negativity. During that meeting, you'll have the time to turn those complaints into genuine solutions. Don't feel overwhelmed - most of those complaints won’t even make it to the meeting, as they only stemmed from knee-jerk complaining anyway!

DO know when it’s time to let them go

Ultimately, a negative employee and an ongoing attitude are both detrimental to you and your team. It's costly, due to a negative impact on performance and lack of team cohesion. It's also detrimental to the well-being of both the employee and their colleagues. You must check you have done everything you can to address a negative employee. However, you cannot let one rotten apple spoil the whole bag. If it comes to this ensure you use that experience to emphasize the traits required for your new hire!

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