Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Simple Strategy to Deal With Negative People

Nobody likes change, but some dislike it more than others.  Negative people in every organization can suck the life out of you.  These are the people that constantly undermine you and others who challenge the status quo in order to create a better culture.  Some have been empowered for all the wrong reasons and take advantage of their “sacred cow” status. Others are just miserable professionally and dislike their jobs.  Then there are those people who just live in perpetual fear of moving outside their comfort zones to try something new. Their reasons vary, but naysayers and antagonists seem to put more energy and effort into making our jobs more difficult than helping to improve how business is done.  

One strategy is to avoid negative people, as they will pepper you with numerous problems for every single solution. Even though this can prove to be effective strategy in the short term or when dealing with people on social media, it might not best serve the interests of your district, school, or organization.  Naysayers and antagonists thrive on not being challenged when they complain, especially if you cannot come up with a workable solution in a short period of time. A lack of action on your part only makes them stronger.

The secret to dealing with negative people is to make them part of the solution by not allowing them to continually be part of the problem.  Giving up on these people is not an option. In some cases making them part of the solution can be accomplished through positive encouragement and reinforcement. In certain situations more support in the form of time, resources, professional development, or improved communication can do the trick.  Like you, I am a realist and understand that the positive options above might not result on getting the naysayers and antagonists on your side, whether they want to be or not.  This is where I now share with you a very simple, yet effective strategy to deal with negative people.

If you have never read the No Complaining Rule by Jon Gordon, quickly add it to your reading list. It is a very quick and entertaining read with some powerful ideas on how to tackle negativity in the workplace.  In the book Gordon presents the No Complaining Rule, which is comprised of essentially two components:

  1. Don't complain
  2. If you do complain, present two solutions to solve your problem or issue

After reading this book over the summer in 2012, I began the school year by implementing the No Complaining Rule with my staff.  When doing so I didn’t tell then to stop complaining all together as that is just unrealistic in any organization. However, I did tell them to provide two workable solutions that I would follow-up on.  Therein lies the key to dealing with negative people. As leaders we must create the conditions for staff to be honest and open about professional issues. We must then encourage and sometimes challenge them to share practical solutions to the problem and listen intently.  The final step is to then try our best to embrace and act upon the solutions provided.  If the solution is not practical, try collaborating with the person or people who suggested it in an effort to make it into something that will work. 

So what other strategies work when it comes to dealing with negative people?


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  2. Great post, Eric! We are one of Jon Gordon's model schools for his Energy Bus for Schools Leadership Journey! We are only a couple of weeks into it but it is already having an impact on our school culture for the staff, students, and families! Transform the Negativity is one of the principles that we are embracing! What a world it would be if our children adopted this rule in their lives at an early age! Thanks for this post! Hope to see you again next year at the Model Schools Conference!

  3. Love this idea about offering solutions rather than just complaining. When starting a dialogue with your staff and your community challenging them to offer their own answers to important questions is a great way to start a real conversation.

  4. I have several of Jon Gordon's books. Love them! Just ordered up this one. Thanks

  5. I have several of Jon Gordon's books. Love them! Just ordered up this one. Thanks

  6. Thanks for the encouragement around this Eric. Love the idea of empowering and inviting those who may be negative to become part of the solution by not letting them stay in the problem. When movement towards a solution is made by embracing and acting on ideas, team ownership is built.