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Five Tips for Confronting Employees with Negative Behavior

Gripes, conflicts and a certain amount of negativity are common in all environments. But it’s important for managers to be aware of the signs of creeping pessimism before their department becomes overrun by Negative Nellies.

Five Tips for Confronting Employees with Negative Behavior. Image source: ShutterStock

Five Tips for Confronting Employees with Negative Behavior. Image source: ShutterStock

Take a minute to run a gut-check, count or place a check next to the behaviors that are common in your department:

  • A focus on why things can’t be done
  • Lack of hope that things can or will get better
  • Insistence on perfection rather than excellence
  • Denial of reality
  • Inability to cope with growth or downsizing
  • Excessive need to control
  • A rigid approach to problem-solving
  • Unwilling to change, even if for the better
  • Anti-management sentiments
  • Fears of job loss
  • Boundary issues, constant ­challenge of authority
  • Desire for dissension
  • Relying on news from the “grapevine”


It should come as no surprise: the more boxes you checked, the more negativity that’s simmering in your department. Every manager has to deal with a certain amount of pessimistic, hostile or uncooperative behavior at times. But a hard-core negative attitude that starts with just one employee can quickly infect an entire department (or a whole company) if the manager doesn’t rein it in quickly.

Here are five quick tips for confronting employees with negative behavior:

  1. Don’t get drawn into the employees’ negative mind-set. Listen to their points, but don’t temper your own realistic optimism.
  2. Avoid getting into an argument. Negative people thrive on the negative energy of arguments. Point out areas of agreement when possible in order to build rapport. Keep your cool.
  3. Set standards. Spell out the consequences of negative behavior, such as decreased morale. Base them on behavior, not attitude. For example, you may not be able to change the fact that an employee doesn’t like a certain company policy. But you can discipline employees if they don’t follow the policy or are insubordinate in gossiping about it.
  4. Ask questions. Force the employee to be specific about what is creating his or her negative thoughts and actions.
  5. Try role-playing. Ask the em­­ployee to put himself in your shoes and pretend he has been asked to resolve the problem. That way, you will have the employee contribute his ideas for the best possible solutions. Involving the employee may also lead to more positive feelings about the solution or outcome since he or she had a hand in creating it.

Source: Business Management Daily