So I’m an optimist. When I first started in leadership, I thought that every person had potential. If someone was negative, I thought they were just one step away from seeing the light and becoming positive.
As a few negative people came along, I decided to try to work alongside them. I kept giving them the benefit of the doubt, even letting them lead, each time thinking that they would eventually become more positive.
For the first few years of my leadership, I let negative people have too much influence for too long, completely out of the conviction that I was trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s just say I learned the hard way that it doesn’t always work out that way. Some people are just negative people.
While I cared (and still care) about them as people, I began to realize the stakes are too high to give negative people a significant role in our community.
A good friend of mine says negativity is contagious. I agree. If you don’t deal with negativity head on, it can infect and impact your entire organization, not to mention the fact that it will discourage and possibly defeat you personally.
Now to wrap it up, let’s answer this question:
How do you minimize the impact of a negative person?
Here’s what’s I’ve learned to do once I’ve identified someone as a negative person:
1. Learn what you can but don’t dwell on their remarks. If you approach situations with humility, you can learn from anyone every time. Find the nugget of truth in whatever they are saying about you or your organization, make the changes you need to make and emotionally and organizationally move on.
2. Don’t allow them into leadership. There is a world of difference between having a variety of different opinions around a leadership table and having a negative person around the leadership table. A negative person sucks the energy out of a room and out of good leaders.
3. Monitor their influence. Negative people usually have a sphere of influence. In a healthy organization, that sphere is usually very very small. They have the same five friends they complain to every time they see them. While that’s not admirable, it’s tolerable as long as their influence isn’t growing. Because we have a philosophy of ‘anyone can attend, but not everyone should lead’, we try to make sure that negative people have a home. Our desire is for them to grow in the love and hope of Christ. (Please note this does not apply to staff, elders or leaders. See #2 above. I only apply this to people who ‘attend’.)
4. Help them see themselves accurately. While this is difficult, it’s important to tell negative people who want more influence why you won’t give it to them. Explain that there’s lots of room for leaders in your organization, but not for leaders with a negative agenda. You might even offer them ideas, books, and mentors to help them work on it. People who want to change will grab onto this gladly. Perpetually negative people who wear their negativity as a badge of honour will run from it.
5. Ask the destructive ones to leave. I have only done this on a few, rare occasions. Usually these are for people who are not negative, but who are evangelistically negative. They’re not content to keeping their negativity to themselves; they insist others share it. Their negative becomes divisive, and in that case, they need to go. Whether they hold leadership positions or not, destructively negative people can’t stick around. In case you’re wondering, that’s also what they did in the early church.
This isn’t easy, naturally, but it has been very helpful in our context. Try it for a while and you’ll have a team that has fewer politics, a real joy and a positive outlook. Those teams are teams most of us can’t wait to join.
What have you learned about minimizing the impact of negative people?