executive coach

Do you have an employee on your team who always seems to dwell on worst-case scenarios? Workers who focus on the doom and gloom often threaten to dampen workplace morale and spread their bad attitude to the entire group. So what can you do to manage a negative employee and keep the pessimism from spreading?

Companies often rely on executive coaching to teach managers and executives how to deal with such situations. Following are six strategies executive coaches might recommend to prevent workplace negativity from getting out of hand.

1. Beware of the Contagion Effect — Emotions are often shared throughout groups, a phenomenon that psychologists refer to as social contagion. This emotional synchronization involves mimicking the facial expressions, verbal tones, and postures of other people in the group. When the emotion in question is a positive one, this mimicry can have a constructive influence. When negative emotions infect a group, it can impair intragroup relations and hurt team performance, morale and cohesiveness.

A negative contagion can also have an impact on relations with customers. One study found that a customer’s service experience is directly influenced by the emotional displays of the employee offering customer service. A positive employee creates an uplifting encounter, leading to better customer reviews. Negative employees infect customers with their bad attitudes, and those negative emotions spill over into customers feelings toward the business.

2. Know the Emotional Tone of the Workplace — The first step toward preventing negativity in the workplace is to stay abreast of employee attitudes. Managers and human resource professionals need to keep their fingers on the organization’s pulse, carefully monitoring worker morale and attitudes. Keep a close eye on early warning signs by paying attention to any employee complaints. Consider unique ways to inspire team members who may be in a rut.

3. Tackle Negativity Head On — When you do become aware of negativity in the workplace, executive coaches recommend taking a rapid and proactive approach to dealing with the problem. If one individual is acting as a “Debbie (or Dave) Downer,” it is important to deal with that individual quickly – especially if the person is in a managerial or leadership role. Rather than trying to sweep it under the rug, hoping it will remedy itself, address the negativity in a direct manner.

executive coach4. Listen — Give the employee a chance to talk about what might lie at the root of his or her bad attitude. Is the worker unhappy with some aspect of the workplace? Are there team dysfunctions that put a damper on group attitudes and individual performance? Or is the person struggling with an underlying personal issue? Try to listen actively to what the employee has to say, but do not become judgmental or defensive.  The worker is not angry with you as an HR manager – he or she is just venting frustrations that need an outlet.

At this juncture, it is important to “fact-check.” Is the employee unhappy about actual events or circumstances, or are there misconceptions that need to be cleared? Negativity can sometimes be caused by a perception that an employee is being treated unfairly, for example, when only some of the facts are considered. In some cases, once all facts are on the table, that negativity can be replaced by acceptance.

5. Discuss Solutions — Conduct a brainstorming session to discuss possible options to combat negativity. If the worker has a legitimate complaint about a workplace issue, try to find a solution that address the underlying problem. Executive coaches recommend talking to the employee about ways that he or she can help create a strong morale in the workplace. Empower the employee by giving them the voice and authority to exercise control over certain decisions within the department or organization. Provide positive feedback on the employee’s strengths and focus on how he or she can capitalize on these aptitudes.

6. Model a Positive Attitude — What better way to encourage an upbeat attitude among your team members than to “walk the walk” yourself? Even though you may also feel frustrated and discouraged, acknowledge those feelings and then shift your focus to solutions. Watch the language you use; trade in absolutes (never, can’t, won’t) for softer alternatives that signal consideration (sometimes, may, could). Try to point out the good things that are going on despite whatever challenges the team may be facing. Show appreciation and offer positive feedback when employees do a good job or put in extra effort.

As a manager, you will inevitably need to deal with a negative employee at some point in your career. Fortunately, there are plenty of constructive steps you can take to prevent bad attitudes from forming and to stop the tide of negativity from spreading. Establishing strong lines of communication, staying aware of employee attitudes, modeling positive behaviors, and confronting negativity head on are just a few approaches that can minimize the damage caused by a pessimistic employee.

What other steps have you taken to prevent pessimism from spreading in the workplace?