“She’s always whining,” “He’s retired on the job”, “Not worth the trouble trying to motivate her”, etc. etc.
When it comes to managing employees who have seemingly tuned out, shut down and stopped contributing, it is easy to understand why leaders and managers become frustrated, abandon hope of a turnaround, and give their attention to the more engaged team members. After all, dwelling on the negative employee is an energy drain, hinders our effectiveness and takes a toll on managing higher priorities.
As leaders, most of us agree that managing difficult people is challenging. The usual default position of leaders who give up on unproductive employees is based on the premise that they are simply too much work. However, can we be certain that our summation is entirely accurate?
The truth is that we make up our minds about people based on our perceptions and experiences. Yet, we may not know the whole story. Perhaps we need to re-examine some of the evidence?
There is no question that negativity is one of the most destructive forces operating in the workplace. However, there are times when we also need to ask ourselves: “Am I looking for the good?”
During a recent leadership workshop, an attendee shared an example of working with a long-term employee who became antagonistic during a complex salary negotiation. The leader noted that his employee “was a difficult personality” who was reticent to take ownership of his behavior. The leader asked: “How do I remain positive through a barrage of criticism and defensiveness?” We delved further into their relationship dynamics, discovering that the leader and employee were often at loggerheads and their interactions were usually strained.
As we worked through strategies to manage the issue, another participant asked how his colleague could re-frame the situation. He told the group about a time when he managed an employee who was thirty years his senior and took exception to being led by “a kid.” The audience learned that “the kid’s” predecessor had given up on the older employee because he would soon be retiring. While most of the leadership team thought the employee had lost his passion, the newer manager felt differently. He chose to view his employee through a fresh lens and by doing so, was able to gain his support, trust and co-operation.
In short, he looked for the good.
The new supervisor’s story resonated with the rest of the group. They acknowledged the fact that perceptions become reality. In other words, what we believe about people becomes our truth.
By suspending judgment, remaining open and above all, being willing to shift your perspective, you can see others in a new light. Most importantly, by separating yourself from the past and/or reassessing the manner in which you evaluate others, it possible to rise above the negativity and find a way to respond positively. Let it start with you.
Image credit: “Up Ladders Indicates Raise Improvement And Improve” by Stuart Miles