Managing and Working with Negative People

By Beth Miller, founder and president of Executive Velocity.

We’ve all been there. You find yourself working on an important project and one of your team members, co-workers, or even the manager is an eternal pessimist. I like to call people like this, Eeyore. You remember Eeyore, the gloomy donkey from Winnie the Pooh.  The words and phrases you often hear from pessimists are: “It won’t work,” “I can’t,” “why?” Not only can these people de-motivate others, but they can also quickly derail a great project.

So what do you do to assist the Eeyores in your life? Ignoring them is not the right answer, although many of us seem to choose this as the only solution, thinking that they can’t be helped. Yet, often they can be helped once they understand how it affects them and others.

You first have to remember that they didn’t become a pessimist last week. Unfortunately, they probably came out of the womb looking at the world in a negative light. So any change that does occur is going to be small and slow. It is important to be alert to the smallest positive change, and when you observe some positive change, praise them for it! Let them know how the smallest of change impacts you in a positive way.

When I work with leaders who focus more on the negative, rather than the positive, the challenge is to get them to open their eyes to more options than what they initially see. In fact, often they see no options. I will try to challenge their beliefs that led them to a negative conclusion. For instance, if I hear “I can’t” from someone, my next questions are: “What makes you believe this? What proof do you have? How solid and reliable is your proof?” The goal is to get them to start seeing things in a more balanced, realistic way.

The other part of the process of managing the pessimist is to get them to see how they are impacting others around them. Good first questions when someone claims “I can’t” are: “If you can’t do it, how do you think this is going to impact others on your team? What resources or assistance do you need so you ‘can’?”

Change won’t happen overnight, but if you take action and don’t ignore the pessimist, you will begin to see some positive results. And those who work with them will be thankful for the changes. Ultimately, these changes can increase your team’s productivity and effectiveness.

Beth is the founder and president of Executive Velocity, a leadership development coaching firm accelerating the leadership success of CEOs and business leaders. She is a past member of EO and a graduate of Birthing of Giants. Beth is certified in Myers Briggs and Hogan leadership assessment tools and is a Certified Managerial Coach by Kennesaw State University. Click here to read her blog, or you can follow her on Twitter: @ExecVelocity.

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