In the "No"

Pessimistic employees may not be so bad for your business after all.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the September 2004 . Subscribe »

Pessimism has gotten a bad rap-nobody wants to hire a pessimist. But a recent study conducted at Central Michigan University found there are benefits to pessimism-pessimists tend to make safer choices with regard to gambling than their optimistic counterparts. So could pessimistic employees be an asset to your business?

An employee who plays devil's advocate or sees potential obstacles to a project can be invaluable. Says Bill Catlette, co-author with Richard Hadden of Contented Cows Give Better Milk: The Plain Truth About Employee Relations and Your Bottom Line, "Often, that difference manifests itself in the form of caution or skepticism-qualities that good leaders come to appreciate and effectively utilize."

The key to harnessing the gifts of your pessimistic employees is your managerial attitude, says Susyn Reeve, founder of Choose Peace & Happiness, a corporate consulting and personal development practice in East Hampton, New York. "The entrepreneur shouldn't have [a negative] attitude toward that person," she says. Structure meetings if you have to, and create equal time limits for everyone to express thoughts without interruption. If a pessimist offers dissent of an idea, respond with, "Why don't you think this will work?" to encourage useful responses.

Resident pessimists can also offer valid marketing strategies. But Catlette does note that entrepreneurs should pay attention to what roles pessimists serve in the company-they might not be best suited to the sales division, for example.

The pessimistic view can be valuable, but it has its proper place and time. "It's [not] okay for somebody to [stir up] discord once a decision has been reached," says Catlette. "At that point, it's time for everybody to either get in the boat and start rowing or prepare to be thrown overboard."

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