The Grinch Who Stole Business

Make It Constructive

Entrepreneurs should avoid singling out the glass-half-empty type, because being berated and labeled as the problem only reinforces a negative person's worst fears and makes him or her even more defensive, says Bill Crawford, a Houston-based psychologist, speaker and author of From Chaos to Calm: Dealing With Difficult People vs. Having Them Deal With You (Florence Publishing). "One of the keys to dealing with negative people is seeing them as frightened instead of frightening. It can change your whole perspective," Crawford says.

Employers also need to determine whether the negativity can be turned into something constructive. Is the information valuable? After all, that person you see as lagging on every project may actually be the brave soul who's speaking for the other people in the office. In this case, the negative employee has something to say about the job that needs to be said; the information is just not coming out in a constructive way. This is where the employer can make a big impact.

"Coach these employees on how to communicate. Be positive and say 'I'm impressed with your impressions.' Channel this person's disruptive energy so that it might create solutions," Crawford says. Chances are, these people are complaining because they think they have good ideas that haven't been heard. Turning the griper into a solution provider gives this "class disrupter" an avenue to contribute in a valuable way and also plays into the person's self-esteem.

Remember, too, that office critics may not even realize that they're overly critical. "Most negative people don't know that they're negative because no one ever tells them," Topchik says.

Hart says she tries to answer the fol-lowing questions when dealing with a negative employee:

1. Does this person have potential but is in the wrong job?

2. Does he or she require encouragement or desire more (or less) responsibility?

3. Is he or she suffering from personal problems?

Hart has found some of her negative employees just wanted to find their place at Luna and, with encouragement, direction or a promotion, became much more positive about their jobs and turned out to be good performers. "Communication is so important," she says. "We make an effort to sit down and talk about it. After a month or two, the situation almost always improves."

Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog,

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This article was originally published in the March 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Grinch Who Stole Business.

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