Early in my career, I singled out the most negative person in our organization and made it my personal mission to improve her attitude.  We spent hours in discussions and I invested a tremendous amount of time and energy attempting to improve her attitude.

Over the past 20 years I have since learned that as leaders, our challenge is keeping the positive ones positive and to minimize the impact of the negative ones.  While I’d hate to think that my time was completely wasted, just imagine if I’d dedicated that time to a positive or even average employee.

Negativity vs. “I’m just keeping it real” – Some amount of reality is a good thing in life, otherwise we might all skip work and make a career out of buying lottery tickets.  Here’s how you can tell if someone is “keeping it real” or if they are just plain negative.  Try running a couple of new ideas past them and consider these possible responses:

  1. What an awesome idea, do it now!
  2. I like the concept, have you considered adding x and y to that?
  3. Don’t do it, it will never work

If they typically respond with the third answer, ask yourself this:  How many times have you focused on their needs and neglected your top or average performers because they were making a fuss?  Providing those noisy negative people with our attention only encourages them to bang the gong louder.

So how do we turn down the noise?  Every role in an organization should have clear expectations set for it.  Employees should be expected to meet those expectations and be held accountable when they don’t.

What we often find is that when those highly negative people are held accountable, they will find opportunities to toss up distractions, excuses, and often create drama to move the spotlight away from their performance.  Don’t buy into this.  Hold them accountable and don’t allow the drama to distract you from focusing on the measurable.  Above all, limit your time with them.  You will want to spend your time and energy keeping your top employees inspired and increasing the engagement of your average folks.

If you starve that negative need for attention, maybe they will find that they can obtain the attention that they need from a competitor.  Be glad if they do, you’ll be better off in the long run.

“Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.” 

Mahatma Gandhi

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