Developing Your Talent

Tips to Quell Negativity on Your Team and Boost Performance

By JC Heinen on September 13, 2012

How do you feel after a long-winded complaint session at work? Distracted, agitated, exhausted, discouraged … dumb? Well, there’s a reason for that – and it’s based on science.

In her recent Inc. article, “Listening to Complainers Is Bad for Your Brain,” Minda Zetlin cites a fascinating study about how brain activity is affected by “various stimuli, including a long gripe session.” The results are startling: “… being exposed to too much complaining can actually make you dumb. Research shows that exposure to 30 minutes or more of negativity – including viewing such material on TV – actually peels away neurons in the brain’s hippocampus.” Not only that, but if you listen to a lot of negativity, you’re more likely to be negative yourself.

But what if your team is constantly complaining? How do you, as a manager, quell the negativity before it galvanizes into an overpowering vortex that sucks the life out of your department?  Don’t let the negative talk fester and build.  Take action by following these tips:

  • Don’t let one bad apple spoil the whole bunch. If the complaining is limited to one person who is always seeking an audience, set aside some one-on-one time to coach the employee on the impact of his or her behavior on the team.
  • Identify the real problem. If the griping is wide-spread, intervention is required. Get to the heart of the team’s grumbling. Are the complaints centered on company processes, policies and management or are they based more on personalities and group dynamics?
  • Solicit solutions. Ask employees for feasible solutions to their concerns. This not only illustrates that you value your team’s point of view, but it gives the group the opportunity to move “out of the weeds” and consider how they fit into the bigger picture.
  • Implement ideas. Keep your team informed as you evaluate their suggestions. If they think you aren’t seriously considering their solutions, it’ll just start another round of complaining.

Don’t let negativity “dumb down” your department. As a leader continually monitor the pulse of your team and foster the departmental communication that leads to a positive environment that increases productivity.

2 Responses to “Tips to Quell Negativity on Your Team and Boost Performance”

  1. John McCormack

    A validated and normed personality assessment used in a team building application to improve workplace communication dynamics would go a long way toward improving the issues described here. If team members and leadership understand each other’s motivations and what causes certain behaviors in the workplace, they will be able to narrow the communication gaps that lead to negative behavior, and consequently draw out more positive behavior, improving overall team performance.

    • Lee Hecht Harrison

      Thanks for your comment, John. Assessments can be very helpful as part of team building exercises. For example, I’ve found the MBTI to be quite effective in helping individuals within a team gain insights and understanding around the work and communication styles of other team members, allowing them to be much more collaborative and productive – which goes a long way toward creating a positive environment. Good advice! — JC


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