Motivating the Negative Nancy on Your Team

Bad attitudes in the workplace can spread like wildfire. Here's how to stamp them out.

learn more about Zeynep Ilgaz

By Zeynep Ilgaz

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At my previous job, I worked with a team on an important project. Our group was cohesive, except for one teammate.

Nothing was good enough for her. Had the members of the team thought things through before setting the project's timeline? Why was he in on our meetings? How did we think we could do this better than dozens of others who had tried before?

Her bad attitude left us feeling like we were running on a hamster wheel, drained from trying to please someone who couldn't be pleased -- with no end in sight. As the motivation waned, the work suffered. Finally the issue had to be addressed for the team's productivity.

That was the first time I experienced how contagious negativity can be in the workplace. It can spread like wildfire and affect everyone, including customers. If a pessimistic employee is stifling company productivity, address the issue as soon as possible.

Related: 4 Ways to Diffuse a Toxic Workplace

A "Negative Nancy" is someone who overgeneralizes in labeling situations and people, focuses on the bad in each situation, jumps to conclusions and constantly redirects the blame. In a business setting, these behaviors can result in harmful effects, such as reduced productivity, decreased group morale, increased stress, wasted time, hindered creativity and innovation, and higher employee turnover.

A Fierce Inc. survey highlighted just how toxic a negative personality in the workplace can be. Respondents ranked negativity higher than laziness, passive aggressiveness and gossiping when asked to identify the most harmful quality in a co-worker.

"Allowing [negativity] to fester is much more costly and damaging to an organization's bottom line than confronting or possibly replacing a single toxic employee," said president and CEO of Fierce Inc. Halley Bock in a statement. "Organizations must foster employee- and company-level accountability by addressing attitudinal issues as soon as they arise."

After detecting negativity in an organization, take these steps to nip it in the bud before it spreads throughout the office:

Related: Ignoring Employee Morale Will Cost You. Here's the Solution.

1. Identify the negative behavior. Recognize bad attitudes and negativity and identify the individual involved after receiving a tip or spotting something.

2. Confront the person. Develop a plan to address the individual in a calm, private setting. Set aside enough time to discuss the situation in detail. There may be a reason or a trigger for this behavior.

3. Reinforce positive behavior. During the discussion, set goals for change and even play out scenarios. Listen to the employee's thoughts and ideas about the situation and emphasize the need for a positive attitude moving forward.

4. Follow up. Schedule a meeting to discuss the individual's progress. Recognize and praise positive improvements and attitude.

5. Set a good example. The manager should demonstrate positive behavior for staff members -- even on the cloudiest of days. Remind them that problems and setbacks are an inevitable part of business, but each one can serve as a learning experience.

6. Invest in positivity. Boost the positivity quotient in the office by fostering programs or activities that will make staffers happy, such as potlucks, games and employee-of-the-month recognitions. Promote physical and mental health by funding employee-fitness programs, planning office yoga classes or creating work spaces with natural light.

Even the most positive person can have a bad day, and it's not uncommon for co-workers with different backgrounds, beliefs and behaviors to have an occasional personality clash. But letting a Negative Nancy disturb the attitudes and work of others can be extremely detrimental to business productivity. The key is addressing the issue quickly and promoting positivity and happiness throughout the workplace.

Related: How to Turn Negativity Into Creativity

Zeynep Ilgaz

Entrepreneur, Co-Founder and President of Confirm Biosciences and TestCountry

Originally from Turkey, Zeynep Ilgaz and her husband immigrated to the United States with two suitcases and the drive to dive into entrepreneurship. They co-founded Confirm BioSciences and TestCountry in San Diego. Ilgaz serves as president of both. Confirm BioSciences offers service-oriented drug-testing technologies.

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