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Maximize Their "Skills" and Encourage Flexibility

Working With Or Managing The Overly Positive Or Overly Negative Employee

"Empty Glass Is Full" employees, and the opposite, Full Glass Is Empty" empty employees can drive their co-workers and managers absolutely around the bend (see The Sweetspot Between Overly Positive and Overly Negative for further details of what these folks do).

The Empty Glass Full Employee tends to lack critical thinking skills, and see almost any position, almost any idea in a positive light, even when it's obvious to everyone else that the position or idea is disasterous. Their constant "yeah saying" can push groups to make bad decisions, as they embrace the social aspects of supporting others, regardless of the merits of the idea.

The Full Glass Empty Employee is the "negative critic", who rarely if ever embraces good ideas, and feels compelled to point out the flaws in something, even if the idea or position is an overwhelmingly GOOD idea. S/he is the "naysayer".

Both are problematic because of their disconnection from the actual merits of any idea, person's actions, or position.

Managing and Communicating With These "Extremists"

Unfortunately, the more one sees the patterns of one or the other of these "extreme" positivists or negativists, the more frustrating it becomes. Balanced people who treat each position or idea as a fresh one, and look at BOTH the merits and drawbacks are worth their weight in gold, because they can point out where things might go wrong, but also what benefits can accrue.

The extremists don't do that.

Yet you are stuck with them, either working for you, or as co-workers.

The key is to "tease out" the other side of their thinking, if it in fact exists and they have the skills and NOT to argue with them.

First, recognize that some people are so stuck being negative or positive and they may be stuck because they lack the skills, whether thinking or communicating to behave differently. It may be that they are what they are, and nothing you can do can change it. Annoying, but true.

However, others who use these two different extreme styles may have the capacity to contribute differently, provided they are lead to thinking in a more balanced way.

The task of managing these extreme talkers and the task of communicating with them in some meaningful way, as a co-worker are similar.

Lead the overly positive to CONSIDER possible negative aspects of an issue, person, or problem solution.

On the other hand lead the overly negative person to contribute alternative problem solutions to try instead of what they are criticizing.


phrases to say to a naysayerSpecific Phrasings For The Overly Negative

The overly negative tend to throw rocks from a distance, and at just about everything. They may have exceedingly good analytic skills and may be very good at anticipating problems.

Their disruptive presence comes from their tendency to "naysay" everything, without coming up with anything better.

They frustrate those around them because they function as the "human speed bumps", people who can tell you what's wrong, but don't offer up what's right.

Here are some phrases to try to move them towards solutions gently:

  • "Fred, I see that could be a concern with x, and I'm wondering whether you can see some way of avoiding that problem"
  • "It seems like you don't like this path of action, and we'd all like to hear any ideas you think are better".
  • "I can see you don't like the idea, Fred, but let's play reverse devil's advocate. Is there anything about the idea that you think is good?"

As you can see, the above phrases are gently prodding the person to contribute in a way different from their habitual negative way. Over time, the individual, at least in theory, should catch on that if they offer criticism, the norm is to also offer a solution that is better, or different.

phrases to deal with the overly positive employeeSpecific Phrasings For The Overly Positive

The overly positive person is in some ways, a bigger problem. On the one hand they can contribute to the social functioning of a group or team by being encouraging and congratulatory, but their abilities to think through things and anticipate possible downsides is often lacking.

The constant focus on "what's good" can actually cause groups to make very bad decisions if nobody steps up to talk about disadvantages of an approach or course of action. The more they talk and encourage, and their lack of task orientation in groups can be aggravating.

Here are some phrases to try to encourage them gently to look at BOTH sides.

  • "I'm glad you agree with x, but it's important to consider how things can go wrong. Can you think of potential downsides to x?"
  • "Let's play devil's advocate. Can you come up with reasons why this course of action could backfire?
  • " I think it's a good idea, although I'm concerned that [negative consequence] might result. What do you think? Is it possible this could work badly?"

The Direct Approach

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When gentle encourage to think differently doesn't work, it may be that all that is left, besides ignoring people's habitual positive or negative modes, is to broach the topic directly. This applies more to managers who have a responsibility to lead discussions, make decisions, and develop the thinking skills of staff to help them become more valuable.

Here are a few direct approach phrasings:

  • I appreciate that you are so supportive of others' ideas, but we can all benefit from you balancing your comments to consider both positives and negatives of ideas.
  • I value your ability to analyse situations, and come up with possible downsides of various approaches. When we need to make decisions, though, we need both criticisms of options, AND suggestions for a better option, and I'd like to see more of that from you.

Finally, On Social Media

Social media has the unfortunate outcome of polarizing people into camps, particular "for" and "against". Generally speaking most social media contributions tend to be rather shallow. The medium is simply not very good for the exchange of ideas done in a balanced way.

So, on social media you'll find extreme negativity, and extreme positivity. The former can never admit something is a good idea, while the latter seems never to come across an idea or comment they dislike.

Fortunately, we can CHOOSE who to interact with, unlike the situations at work.

You could argue, or encourage people to move out of their habitual response patterns, but the problem is you have no leverage, and most likely, you will simply end up arguing.

So, move on. Interact with people who can see both sides of an issue, and you'll learn.

You can still read the naysayers and yeah sayers, if that's your thing, and you might learn from them, but the really valuable people on social media are those that have no agenda, and no habitual negativity or positivity.

Finally, another good thing about social media is that it's pretty easy to pick out the extremely negative or habitually positive by seeing their comments. Choose wisely.


About Company

Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992. Since then Robert has trained thousands of employees to deal with angry, hostile, abusive and potentially violent customers. He has authored over 20 books on various subjects, many published by McGraw-Hill.


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