In our last post we talked about priming for learning. Many of those suggestions can also be used with negative employees (so read through our last post to review), but here are a few more ideas to help navigate the obstacles created by employees with negative attitudes.
Remember: you must energize yourself before you can energize others.
If you have the expectation that a person is negative, it shows in your face, in your tone and even in the words that you choose. Your bias will be evident and the person will react negatively to everything that you are communicating, verbally or not. This is a concept that we have referenced before called the Chameleon Effect. As this principle demonstrates, people tend to respond to an experience in ways that create exactly what they are afraid of happening. Some people would call this the self-fulfilling prophecy, but the Chameleon Effect is more scientific, and as you probably know, I’m a real geek for science!
Negative employees fall into three categories:
- People with chronic negative attitudes. (You can’t help but feel sad for people who are in this situation.)
- People who are just going through a negative time, but who have high potential if they are energized.
- People who you believe are negative, but in reality it’s only your perspective. (For example, if a person disagrees with you in a meeting, you can see them as negative.)
The great news is that there are ways to turn around a negative employee situation, by using a few simple tools. (The more you use them, the easier they become.)
Create Positive Balance
Start by creating a positive list that will help rebalance your negativity bias. To do this, prime yourself with what is good about the negative employee, such as focusing on their skills or past accomplishments. Take some time and come up with a solid list, if you can. This will help you mentally overcome your negative feelings toward their behavior or attitude. These must be sincere; fake positivity backfires.
Initiate a Win-Win
Next, think about the behavior or attitude that you want to see this employee exhibit. Then consider the incentive for the employee to shift their behavior. If you can communicate the effect that this good behavior will have on their relationships and their job satisfaction, you will have a better chance of getting what you want out of them. It’s easy to forget that we need to appeal to the employee’s better interest, not just our own or that of the company.
For example: I have a colleague who kills ideas in meetings a lot, which shuts down creativity. I wanted to run our review meetings more positively and productively. I knew it would help people to share best practices and build creativity-energizing morale. I figured that the incentive for my idea-killing colleague is to please our clients. So before a momentous meeting I told her, “In order to dazzle our client I’d like to start by seeing what has dazzled them in the past—to make sure we keep doing it. Then I want to stay focused on how to really impress the client by brainstorming how to do it even better next time.” My colleague agreed to give it a try. It worked so well that now it’s our agreed upon way to review. She’s also more open to my ideas in general.
When you’re working with negative employees, it can be very helpful to use power reframes. Especially if employees are in the second or third category, approaching them with a power reframe gives them an opportunity to live into the change you would like to see. To create a power reframe, start by giving two benefits that will appeal to them before you tell them the behavior that you want from them. For example, if you’ve got an intelligent employee who doesn’t work well with others, but still wants advancement and praise as a high contributor, you can create a power reframe such as, “This project has the opportunity for exposure that can make a difference in future promotions, as well as kudos from the boss. In order to pull this off we need to be sure that people see us communicating really well with our team mates.”
(This is better than saying, “You’re a terrible team player. Stop being a prima donna and get your act together.” You know you’re tempted to say this sometimes. I know I am.)
This power reframe allows the employee an opportunity to envision a better future for themselves, as well as the team goal. People are more likely to go along with you after seeing that it will help them get what they want. The key to an effective power reframe is that it must be authentic and contain incentives that are important to that person. Otherwise you’ll sound like a used car salesman trying to sell a car with three wheels.
Power reframes can be much harder than they sound, so it helps to rehearse your power reframe before you walk into the situation. I’ve been using power reframes for years, but I can still be at a loss for reframing words when I’m in the middle of a frustrating situation.
Another technique that can really help is to get to know negative employees better. If you can discover something about them that you can genuinely get excited about and care about, this will help you in working with them. I’ve had personal experience with people who started out with a negative attitude, but once I developed a connection with them, they turned around and we had a great relationship.
The Golden Rule works in many situations, but with many employees The Platinum Rule works even better: Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.
(FYI, these tips also work with children! You can inspire your children just like you would employees.)
If you think your team members would benefit from learning how to prime themselves and one another, give me a call. I would love to help. And if you have any great tips for priming negative employees, please share them. I love to hear your ideas! Simply comment below or connect with us on social media. (Connect with us on social media anyway; we share lots of cool stuff!)