Here are some simple steps for quelling the office critic:
1. Understand change from the employee's perspective. "Involve employees; don't just mandate to them," Topchik says. Listen for the first grumblings of discontent and take action. Former professor and professional speaker Alan R. Zimmerman, Ph.D., uses the phrase "forms vs. forums"-e.g., using a memo vs. a meeting to discuss a company change-to describe the ways CEOs communicate. "All organizations go through change, but few talk about it with employees," he says. Zimmerman, who helps companies deal with negativity, says employees can put up with change as long as they can talk openly about it.
2. Find the fear, then focus on solutions. A negative person may be afraid of something. Is that something being fired? Failing on a project? Not being listened to? Teach negative employees to focus on offering solutions, not just criticism. Add formal evaluation procedures, and, if negativity seems rampant, hire a third party to conduct an anonymous survey to assess the problem.
3. Do some coaching. Work with the negative person on improving his or her attitude, and make sure to document everything. If there's no improvement after three to six months, maybe it's time, as Topchik says, to give the gift of unemployment. "Employers can work too long and hard with some negative people, when it's better just to cut their losses," he says.
After you let a negative person go, talk with employees about the future of their workplace. It can be the perfect opportunity to take the pulse of your company culture.
Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.