Eliminating Negativity At Work

by Stephen Frueh, PhD | June 1, 2017 1:32 pm

Here are four hidden psychological factors that corrupt performance.

Business consulting often focuses on the most tangible challenges: cash flow, supply chain, work flow, job descriptions, salaries and bonuses.

In my work with companies and corporate teams, I often take an “inside out” approach. “Inside out” focuses on that which is not so easily seen and often can be a far more powerful inhibitor of successful operations. We see four (among many) factors that, once identified can create a pathway for improving personal performance of employees and managers.


The so-called negative employee. We all know and recognize this person and it’s easy to demonize them. We have found numerous examples that may seem to you to be “counter intuitive.”

The negativity you see often hides a strong desire to positively impact a team through naming what’s wrong. We call this employee the “truth teller” and he or she is easy to dismiss because what they are saying is not well said or is said with so much emotion we feel uncomfortable listening. As in ancient times this messenger of necessary information can be a victim of “kill the messenger.”

Solution: Find a leader who isn’t afraid to listen carefully to all the complaints this employee brings. Honor each one and create a leadership meeting where the complaints or criticisms are seen in a non-emotional objective light, and then decide what’s valid.


The orphan. Within every organization there are insiders and outsiders. Like the school yards of our youth we all want to be part of the in crowd. The “orphan” will linger on the outskirts if not seen for their unique contributions, their work ethic, perhaps their shyness and their reluctance to speak up.

Solution: Empower this employee through intentionally welcoming their input, inviting them to small group gatherings, asking for their help with a project not necessarily in their domain. Offer a little training or coaching where they need it. Seeing it, naming it, acting on it will change the complexion of your team.


The narcissist. This person creates more attention for themselves than is warranted and causes anxiety among team members. They may look good but their self referencing all successes of the team undermines loyalty, goodwill and focus.

Solution: A good muscular interview exploring their needs, their true contributions, their own exploration of their effect on the team—can open the way to coaching that focuses on building a realtime relationship with leadership. Remember: the narcissist wants to be seen, wants to be important. Give them a pathway where they can, in a healthy way, achieve that.


The addict. Addiction is not only about alcohol and drugs. It is a personality style as well. The addict can’t stop themselves from smoking/eating/drinking/working/gossiping, etc.

Solution: This employee needs help but it must be artfully offered. Intervention should be by design using leadership that is itself insightful, kind and proactively oriented. Acknowledge their contributions, probe (a little) around whether they self diagnose their own situation, offer outside the office help (if appropriate) and make a coach available to them. If successful this somewhat driven employee will become even more valuable to your organization as they gain some (inner) control over their demons.

Hidden factors, mostly psychological in nature, can when addressed, fuel real growth in team performance. Work to identify them and then to turn them into positives for your company. •

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