3 common mistakes in dealing with negative team members

Despite best intentions and efforts as leaders we often find ourselves dealing with moans, negativity and blame within teams. Find out how to avoid 3 common mistakes in dealing with negative team members.

Especially important at this time of lockdown, as we deal with the stress of people who have continued to work from home. Or the possibility of re-engaging with people who have been furloughed.

It’s possible there will be some fallout and avoiding these 3 common mistakes in dealing with negative team members, will mean they are less likely to become negative in the first place!

1. Emailing written information is not communication

If you hear yourself saying “I sent them the information so they should know what’s going on”, then you’re ticking a box, but you’re not engaging.

Providing written information is just one element of conveying a message, especially if it involves change.

For people to develop an understanding they may need to explore with discussion and questions.

To feel valued and understood, they need to feel they have been listened to.

Written information is OK, but follow it up with a phone or Zoom call (if you’re unable to meet face to face). Either one to one, or as a team.

Provide team members with a window to air their concerns and frustrations. This enables you to set out your future vision and expectations and engage them with where you’re heading, rather than where you are now. More on team engagement through communicating vision, values and organisational objectives here

2. Always focusing upon what needs to be done

Because we’re busy leaders and we’re sensitive to others being busy, we may feel it’s necessary to get to the point and ‘get on with it’. And of course there is some merit in this, too much naval gazing is unproductive.

However, do you make specific time to check in on the person?

Are you asking – particularly during these times of lockdown, how this person is experiencing working for home/not working/homeschooling/being completely alone etc. etc.

Even if your team members are furloughed, you can check in on their well-being. This will go a long, long way to encouraging positivity about the future.

Are you interested in their working relationships and helping individuals to develop strategies to resolve difficulties?

Do you recognise when someone may need help in talking through how they are going to approach a task, or conversation?

As a leader you can support your team development and avoid negativity through fear of failing, or lack of confidence, by giving them a sounding board to solve problems for themselves. Asking questions to encourage them to think it through and consider options.

When we neglect these elements, we open up the opportunity for resentment to fester and this is a common mistake in dealing with negative team members.

3. Defending yourself against their negativity

When someone is moaning, disheartened, negative and pushing the blame onto others (and this might be you), it’s helpful to get underneath what that’s about.

They may be in a position of feeling unappreciated and possibly victimised and will be saying either “why me, this is not fair,” or “if only you would listen to me and do what I say this could all be so much better.”

They will be taking up a position on the Drama Triangle of either ‘Victim’ or ‘Persecutor’ and are looking to be rescued. See more on the Drama Triangle here

You will need to shift your position. A common mistake in dealing with negative team members is to become defensive yourself, avoid this (difficult I know!) as this will reinforce your position of ‘Persecutor’ in their eyes.

Also avoid telling them it will ‘all be alright’ if that’s a promise you can’t keep – you’re being tempted into being a ‘Rescuer’.

Instead ask questions like:

  • What options do you have?
  • What actions would you like to take?
  • What is your most important objective/need and how can I help you to realise it?
  • What change are you asking for and what 2 things would create the most value and benefit for you?

Note that the above questions put the emphasis on the individual making change and taking action. You can support this, but you’re encouraging them to take ownership for the change.

And/or be clear on your expectations:

  • These are my expectations, can you meet them?
  • What support do you need to meet my expectations?
  • What actions can I support you to take to meet my expectations?

The approach of a fair leader

The truth is, there will be occasions when some people are just not ready to be where you need them to be. The fair thing to do as a leader is –

  • Provide every opportunity for those people to engage.
  • Be really clear and kind about your expectations.
  • Support them in taking the steps toward change.

In doing as much as you can to avoid these common mistakes, you will either help them to make a shift and possibly become one of your most highly engaged team members. Or, at least you will have done everything you can before they decide that perhaps working with you isn’t the place they want to be and you can part ways as amicably as possible.

Lyn Paxman, EvolveYou specialises in working with business and team leaders, developing leadership approaches which are in line with their culture and customer ethos. Lyn coaches and mentors leaders one to one as well as working with teams to increase their engagement and accountability.