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Liz Reyer: Set expectations for too-negative employee

By Liz Reyer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

QUESTION: An employee in our company is being transferred to my team. She’s often very negative; how do I keep this from infecting my team and damaging morale?

ANSWER: Be direct about your expectations and consistent with your feedback to address this situation.

Keep past experience with this employee in mind, but also try letting her come in with a clean slate. Imagine how you’d want to be treated if you were joining a new team, and set aside negative biases. Some of the negative attitude she’s shown may have been situational, so a fresh start may serve you the best.

That said, if you have direct experience with her — rather than hearsay or gossip — you’ll want to think about the ways that a negative attitude could occur with your team. For example, if you’ve seen her be dismissive of others’ ideas, plan to keep an eye out for this in team meetings or brainstorming sessions.

Also considering the specific behaviors that you’re concerned about, identify tactics you’ve used in the past. If they were successful, add them to your toolbox for managing her. If they were not, assess for ways you could improve them. Reflect on the approaches others have used as well, and learn from the skills of those around you.

Finally, envision successful outcomes. What does it mean to you to maintain your positive team experience? One option may be a transformation that helps her become a positive member of the team. But if that doesn’t occur, what does success look like?

As with any new team member, your first step will be a “getting to know you” meeting. In this meeting, you’ll have the chance to set a positive tone and see how she responds.

Ask some open-ended questions about her strengths, aspects of her work that she particularly enjoys, and her thoughts about joining your team. You can then lay out your expectations related to attitude and performance. For example, if she seems positive, you can reinforce that: “I’m pleased to hear that you’re feeling good about joining us—maintaining a positive attitude is very important to the team.”

But if she has a more negative tone, you could lay out your expectations in a neutral tone: “Let me describe some of my expectations … ”

Then it’s up to you to watch and intervene promptly and constructively. If you see behavior that concerns you, take her aside to describe the behavior, the effect it has, and the change you want her to make.

This may take time, but if she’s motivated, she’ll break the negative habit. If she’s not motivated, you’ll need to start documenting your conversations and decide how severe the consequences could be. If you feel that these behaviors could ultimately lead to termination, she needs to know that.

Being open-minded, honest, and fair will help you maintain the health of your team.

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