"I'm getting to the end of my patience," Dan,* the head of sales for a financial services firm, told me. "There is so much opportunity here—the business is growing, the work is interesting, and bonuses should be pretty good this year—but all I hear is complaining."
When he passed his employees in the hall and asked how it was going, they would respond with a critical comment about a client or they would grumble about the amount of work they were juggling.
"How can I turn around the negativity that pervades my team?" he asked me.
I asked him what he was doing now.
"At first, I told them how much opportunity we had in front of us, and I reiterated our mission statement," he said. "I wanted to remind them what we're all working towards. Now though?" He threw his hands up in the air, "I'm just pissed. I want to shake them out of their slump."
Dan's response is completely natural and intuitive. Unfortunately, it's also completely ineffective.
Initially, he tried to counter the negativity with positivity. When that didn't work, he became negative himself. Both responses reaped the same outcome: more negativity.
Here's why: Countering someone's negativity with your positivity doesn't work because it's argumentative. People don't like to be emotionally contradicted, and if you try to convince them that they shouldn't feel something, they'll only feel it more stubbornly. And if you're a leader trying to be positive, it comes off even worse because you'll appear out of touch and aloof to the reality that people are experiencing.
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