by Mike Clark-Madison
I write often in this space about the trends, fads, buzzwords, and obsessions that preoccupy the world of work at any given time. But there are also subjects that seem to be of eternal interest, and one of them is "how to deal with negative attitudes in the workplace." To which my glib response is usually, "Don't."
Now sure, I know how unpleasant it can be to work with, or manage the work of, constant gripers and whiners. And yes, it's true that bad apples sometimes do spoil the whole bunch; negative employees can lower team morale, and they can certainly ruin even the best-planned meeting. But I question whether "dealing with" these people and their attitudes actually does any good.
After all, as we all learned in101 (right?), you can't manage attitudes; you can only manage behaviors. If someone's negativity translates into not doing the job, or bothering other people when they're trying to do their jobs, then certainly a corrective word from the boss is in order. But simply being a sourpuss isn't a firing offense.
Though I typically balk at management advice that takes its cues from parenting, I do think that the best way to "deal with" negative employees is the same way I deal with my son when he's being fussy, which thankfully isn't very often--I ignore him. Simply refuse to engage with these attitudes. Even scolding your sourpusses gives their viewpoints attention and oxygen they don't deserve. Don't put yourself and your team in the position of being responsible for someone else's happiness.
Let me be clear and careful here; I'm not suggesting that you ignore genuine problems on your team that are the cause of employee complaints and gripes. Even when the negativity is frustrating to you--for instance, when it's spawned by situations beyond your control--it's crucial to acknowledge and respond to real obstacles to job satisfaction. But "negative attitudes" to me implies people who complain about things that, ultimately, only they can solve--by changing their attitudes or finding new jobs. Those complaints deserve only the bare minimum of your time and energy.