A pessimist can bring down a whole team without trying. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the pessimists in your team completely. In some cases, these people can add a touch of realism into an overly optimistic team. As a leader, you have two options here: Good leadership can change whiners and pessimists into top performers, or a good leader can also use the negativity of these team members as a way to map out possible points of failure. Either way, you’re turning them into top performers who can contribute to your team instead of just complaining. But which route should you take? When is it safe to say you’ve tried your best and the only option is to let go? Below are a few tips that any leader can use to help improve morale in your team — especially if you happen to have a few team members who like to focus on the negative versus the positive.
Identify the Core of the Problem
For starters, you should determine the root cause of their negativity before attempting to advice or change employees like them in any way.
Asking questions will help you identify the likely starting point of their pessimistic and whiny attitude. It’s not likely they’re just born that way, right?
“What’s the first thing that comes to your mind before you complain about (insert the last subject of their complaint here)?”
Asking about what they thought before verbalizing the complaint will reveal clues about where they’re coming from. Is the employee pessimistic because of past failures, the project’s difficulty or potential problems they see that you don’t?
By asking that question every time they complain, you’ll soon see a pattern to their behavior. Is the negative attitude triggered by a specific event, a particular employee or a time? Could it have been caused by too much pressure or over time?
Once you answer these questions, then you can proceed to developing a solution to their behavior.
Turning Pessimists into Better Contributing Employees
After finding the root cause of the employee’s negativity, the next step is to help them channel their pessimism into something useful. This has to be done in a constructive manner; your aim is to help employees see things in a different light and use their negative view of things constructively. The goal isn’t to make them see how whiny and annoying they are.
The goal is not to change your team member’s values and beliefs.
- Listen and Understand: When a pessimist in your team shows doubt about a project’s ROI or timeline, listen to it and confirm that you understand the message. Most pessimists are used to being ignored and disregarded, thus creating more negativity. By paying attention and trying to understand the situation, you are showing the negative individual that you care and that you are including him or her in the team as well. Aside from showing how you care about their opinions, their negative remarks might clue you in on potential disasters to avoid.
- Don’t be So Optimistic to the Point of Stupidity: It is natural to try and put a positive spin on negative remarks. Don’t. This will only annoy the pessimist in your team. When pessimists feel mocked, they won’t open up next time. Instead of being a plain ol’ pessimist, you’ll be dealing with a passive-aggressive employee instead. That’s even more annoying to the whole team.
- Give Credit When It’s Due: Some pessimists are negative because they don’t trust authority figures anymore. They might have been betrayed, forgotten or left hanging by an authority figure who promised a promotion but didn’t deliver. So now, they’re just out there to complain and spread bitterness.
Sometimes, it’s about stolen glory. If an individual in your team has done well, make sure to give credit when it is due. Acknowledge their contribution to the team to encourage them to be positive. Show them there’s still good in the world of corporate politics.
Pessimists tend to concentrate on negative aspects of things. Don’t let that stop you from leading them towards their potential.
Michelle Riklan is president of Riklan Resources and an instructor for The Leader’s Institute® in the Northeast region. She is based in Trenton, NJ but she also can conduct a team activity in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and other Northeast cities.