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Negativity drains a team

Do you have that teammate that always has a negative or disruptive perspective to share with those around him? Their attitude drags everyone down into that spiral of failure and doom. There’s always something wrong in the process, it’s always “them” and when you solve one problem they create ten new ones. You feel they are not really looking for answers, but rather an excuse to complain. And maybe they don’t even recognise their own behaviours!

A single "toxic" or negative team member can be the catalyst for downward spirals… they truly are energy Vampires.

Sometimes the person is highly skilled, a genius on paper, and yet the overall results are evident. Low motivation in the team, low collaboration with other teams and business units, and ultimately lower deliverables. A constant pessimistic view of things can shake the most positive beliefs of colleagues and reduce their ability and willingness to work towards common goals.

The symptoms:

  • They love to hijack meetings for their agenda or monopolise attention.

  • They will consistently criticise, bully or intimidate others to build up their own ego.

  • When you come across drama, they are a common factor.

  • They won’t take personal responsibility for a task not being completed. They’ll consistently take the victim role – it’s someone’s fault. They aren’t accountable.

So how do you deal with this?

Firstly, just check - how much of that is your perception of them, that for one reason or another you and/or other colleagues have a bias and just don’t like them? Assuming that’s all clear then secondly, accepting that their behaviour is toxic you really have to take action. Even if they are a rockstar in a bunch of juniors, this behaviour will have a significant impact on team morale so it is not something you can tolerate.

Speak to them directly about their negativity and how they are impacting others - because maybe they just don’t realise it. Explain very clearly what value they bring, and how that is offset by their negativity. Give some real examples of their behaviour and their impact. How many times did their teammates give them Kudos points? Ask them to explain why.

Ask them what they think their behaviour looks and feels like. Ask them what they think their behaviour will achieve and what other approaches they think they could try. It could be that they are really just poor communicators.

Top tip: talk about the behaviour and its impact on others, not the person themself. For example, you don’t say “Bill everyone hates it when you talk too much, you really disrupt the meetings all the time ” you say “Bill, extreme talking is really demotivating because others can’t get to raise their point of view. I have observed that you have disrupted the last three meetings and other colleagues couldn’t contribute”...

Sometimes it’s their communication style that’s the problem. There’s a difference between being an “away from” communicator (expressing things as problems rather than solutions) to toxic moaning. Some people are not intentionally negative and don’t realise how they communicate.

If they react positively then you can work together on improving their communication style and implement problem-solving techniques. Agree on goals and a time box for improvement. Agree on how you will measure the improvement. Also, note the impact it's having in meetings with the Meeting Effectiveness poll.

So what if you have the conversation and if they react negatively … will they really change with your coaching? Now that you have this feedback mechanism in place, stick with it. Give the feedback in real-time, because silence is compliance, it means you accept the behaviour and so they have absolute control, with no motivation to adjust. There may be times when you feel it’s pointless but until you make a decision to take the next step, you need to be completely consistent.

Consider the value that this person may bring to the team, what would you lose if they left? As their leader, you really need to decide whether this person can adjust or whether the team will be better off without them.

Then it’s time for a swiftly executed Plan B. Act fast, there’s no benefit to drawing the situation out.

Of course, there is your company performance management protocol that you really must observe. At the same time, it’s time to dive into your Skills Matrix. What skills do they have and what will you miss? How can you distribute the workload? After the initial shock of them leaving the team will take a little time to settle, but most of the time there’s a sense of relief.

Stay positive. You’ve done the right thing. Now you can focus on moving forward.

Remember as a leader your job is to provide your team:

  • Provide psychological safety and an open workplace

  • Make and help others make clear decisions

  • Communicate clear expectations

  • Challenge people to think and behave their very best

  • Positive energy and attitude

  • Facilitate problem-solving

  • Build strong working relationships

Many leaders mistake compassion for inaction, being overly tolerant because “things will get better/ they deserve another chance”. Just be sure your energy is going into someone that really wants to improve, not being sucked away by a person that doesn’t.

Performalise – your teams deserve it!

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