Kit, the pitcher in A League of Their Own, is negative throughout most of the movie. Manufacturing sympathy for her is tough. She is a whiner. She brings down those around her. She is frustrated with the sister who seems to have everything. She is obnoxious to her teammates. She is negative about her life and wants to bring others down around her.
Think about how critical the pitcher is to the team. What does it do to the team to have someone like this at the mound? How many of these people work with or for us? And while you might want to fight this person, just as happens in one scene of the movie, work policy is likely to prohibit you from doing so.
Confrontation is appropriate. You do not need to allow this person to monopolize your time or to jeopardize the flow of the rest of the team due to such negativity. It is not okay.
Make the business case first. Log the hours given in support of this negative person, to try to move him/her beyond the perceived issues. Log the hours given in support of correction of the frustrated team communication. Log the hours given in conversation with other team members who struggle to work with that negative person. Those hours have a cost, with very little ROI.
Often the pattern for a manager is to have all of these conversations, but the functional team dynamic remains the same. The cycle of engagement is not impacted and the status quo returns a day after addressing the issue. Management does little usually to course-correct the department. The symptom gets address – frustration, lack of communication, hurt feelings – but the cause – the negativity of a person – is left because we don’t know what to do.
Sit with Mr./Ms. Negative and share the logged hours. Show him/her how much time has been spent because of him/her. Let the time be a factual example that the behavior has caused. You’re not saying the classic, “I spend so much time dealing with your stuff.” That’s too general and will likely cause the negative employee to be remorseful for a moment but with no lasting repercussion. When management is specific to the time, a line can be drawn in the sand to say enough.
A manager should further make the business case regarding lack of productivity. In all of the hours spent by the manager in dealing with the situations caused by the negativity, rest assured it’s about the same for the team members involved. They are not on task because of having to address the related issues of the negativity. And every member of the team is valuable. It should be very easy to show the negative employee that the team is not here to deal with these issues; it’s not part of their job description. The cost of lost productivity is real and can be shared as an amount based upon time, hourly rate, cost of goods, and other operational & production costs.
Giving the negative person truth and fact is the most respectful way to engage. It will allow the conversation to move away from feeling, which is the default position, and rest purely on fact. Management must engage on a level that moves the negative person out of his/her own perspective and into one that includes the company’s purpose. Often, the negative individual sees his/her role as unappreciated at the company. By sharing factual information, the negative person is offered a different (and more correct) view of how the company sees him/her. When confronted with such information, management can be deliberate about the path of engagement moving forward.
Management will need to follow through on this. If we’re serious that the waste of time is enough, then we must act upon that. No more resources of time, team members and operational productivity will be wasted on such negativity. Everything isn’t terrible, everything isn’t against you and everything isn’t about you. Clearly act on this.
And while management may feel that the negative person is too tough to handle, a better view is to think about the team members that aren’t receiving such attention despite the great work being done. The squeaky wheel getting the grease isn’t a long-term strategy for success. Affirm the right behaviors more than the wrong; look at the time you’re spending on the wrong and make corrections.
Keep in mind, too, that this negative person can follow the path that Kit did. She got traded. Don’t wait too long to trade your Kit.