You’ve just started your day and are feeling good about what’s possible. Your coffee tastes perfect, the sun is shining and you look up with a smile on your face when you hear the knock on your door. In breezes in Ann Oying who immediately starts to engage you with today’s latest headache.
Apparently, customers are bound to start complaining any moment about the less than perfect job the team is doing. Scope creep is about to make everyone’s head explode but how can we deliver anything less than “wow?” Oh, and did you know that the cafeteria is going to be closing 15 minutes early on Friday and that means you will have to buy your afternoon soda at 3:45 instead of 4:00? The world is not fair.
You try to stay focused on what Ann has to say and as your head starts to spin; you take a sip of your coffee desperately trying to remember how good you felt just 20 minutes ago.
Moment of Choice
Get ready to throw your hands up in the air and start placing blame. The team stinks! The customer doesn’t know what they really want! No soda at 4:00? Unacceptable! Negativity is like an infectious disease and when you commiserate, you’ve just become a carrier too. Uh oh.
The second you ask with great concern, “Really??” Ann’s headache becomes your shared migraine. You’re determined to get rid of the pain and fix it at all costs. You’re not a negativity carrier but you’re like human Advil and Ann knows that when you take responsibility to solve the issue at hand, she doesn’t have to step up. All Ann has to do is bring a dire enough situation your way and you’ll take care of the rest. Be warned: If you’re solution doesn’t work, Ann will be sure to let everyone know she never agreed with your line of thinking anyway.
Acknowledge What Is:
Offer a plain and simple: “I hear you.” Not only does it get you off the hook for immediately solving or buying into problem but also let’s Ann know that she’s being heard and that her perspective matters. Oftentimes people tell everyone and their grandmother about problems because they want to be seen and know that they matter. Some people have learned that they way they get the most attention is to point out problems. Recognize the challenges with sincere appreciation for the communication without sinking into shared worry and despair.
Ask: “What do you think we should do?” Don’t volunteer what you think needs to be done, just wait. Show Ann that you value her experience and her ability not only to identify high-impact problems but also define solutions. Engage Ann in brainstorming and hold her accountable for action too. If you take it all on, she will move from room to room infecting everyone in the office with her negative vibe. If Ann shares responsibility for improving outcomes, she’s on the hook too and you’re helping her to step up as a leader in the process.
People like Ann are negativity carriers. In the name of being a “realist” carriers seem to exclusively be the bearer of bad news and somehow never seem to have any good news to share. They are passionate, committed and engaged about the issues at hand and oftentimes make valid points, but rarely share faith about the efficacy of potential solutions. With just the roll of the eyes or the way they sit in their chair filled with tension at a meeting, even without saying a word, it’s clear that things are not going well and you can feel their message with every bone in your body.
Quite simply, the best way to combat negativity carriers is to focus on making things go right instead of fixing what’s wrong. You’ll never get rid of negative energy by being unrealistic, ignoring or buying in. The antidote to negativity is to let others know that they matter and enroll them in solutions instead of problems.
Be the antidote! Refocus your energy from closing gaps to build on strengths and invite others on your team to do the same.
What do you choose?