Negativity – it can infiltrate an organization like the weeds in my flowerbed. How many times have you encountered that one employee who has a gift – a gift of spreading negativity to all of the employees throughout the organization? Just like the weeds populating themselves in my flower bed – they root in one place, then move on to the next place, and so on until the entire area is covered. And just like negativity in the organization, the roots run deep, and it is really difficult to remove. How do you handle negativity? Do you ignore it – don’t give credence to the perpetrator, do you try to crush it with an iron fist, or do you try to dig into the roots and understand why this person possesses this negativity? Trying to fix the situation without diagnosing the cause just covers it up for awhile, but it never completely gets rid of the issue.
I had experience with an employee who never had a positive thing to say about anything or anyone. This person spread their “cheer” throughout my department, creating an interesting challenge to the work environment. Many people tried to limit their contact with her, as they did not want to listen to her complaints. Those who fed off of her negativity became unmotivated, unhappy employees – they spent more time talking about others and their shortcomings instead of doing the work they were being paid to do. I have to admit, there were times in which I allowed this employee to get the best of me, and I chose to ignore her behavior. When I realized this negativity was detrimental to not only the department, but also the entire organization; I realized something needed to change in order to restore balance. I made it my personal goal to understand what made this employee tick – why was this person so miserable? What better way than to start than on a Monday morning engaging all of the employees in a dialogue of their weekend exploits. I think they didn’t know how to respond at first, we typically didn’t spend a lot of time talking about our personal lives, as we were usually so busy! This process became an important building block to understanding the motivations of the group. We all began learning interesting things about one another – from what our interests were to hidden talents everyone possessed. Even our negative employee started to open up and share fascinating tidbits from her life.
Over the next few months, our department spent time listening to one another, celebrating our successes, and learning how to gain a better understanding of human nature. We started having designated “lunch days” where I would supply lunch, and we would all hang out for a half an hour talking about anything but work (unless something funny happened that we could get a good laugh about!) Throughout this process, we were able to create new and interesting relationships with one another, including our negative employee. After awhile, instead of speaking disparagingly about others, she spent more time talking about her life and outside interests. It dawned on me that this person just wanted to be heard. When people listened to her stories about her private life, the negative gossiping about others died down.
There are always going to be negative people who will have the ability to wreak havoc on your organization if you allow it. Mandating that your employees are happy no matter what isn’t really the answer either. At the end of the day, listening can make those negative weeds stop growing and spreading everywhere.