Attitudes, black holes and the dark side

In time, it occurs in every business. It’s when an individual seemingly succumbs to the dark side where negativity, resistance and defensiveness become the predominant traits. Think of it as a force field that extends about ten feet in all directions – and the last thing you want to do is to be sucked inside it. Once you’re sucked in, it can take the better part of the day to purge the negativity that got all over you. The real problem is that it’s not just you who’s getting hit with toxic waste; it’s getting all over everyone else in your company, including your customers.

Our lives can be influenced by many factors both inside and outside the workplace that can drive our attitudes over to the dark side. It affects our demeanor and body language. We can come across as always angry and frustrated. Everyone can feel it when you walk into the room as your funk begins sucking the life and energy out of it, like a black hole that consumes all matter. Star Trek fans are familiar with the Borg phrase, “Resistance is futile.” Verbal communication comes across with a similar tone that “pulls down” rather than “lifts up.”

Allowing negative attitudes on your team is allowing toxic waste to get all over everyone. It brings down the team, saps energy, creates drama and ultimately erodes both productivity and customer experiences. And the longer leadership waits to address the situation, the deeper the negativity spreads in the company.

Here are some no-compromise strategies to purge negative attitudes, black holes and card-carrying members of the dark side from your company:

  • Recognize the signs: Negative attitudes reveal themselves through body language, facial expression and verbal communication. Just as you can see when someone is engaged and energized about work, you can identify negativity, indifference and resistance. Look for crossed arms, slumping, staring into the abyss, curt responses and disengagement. Lingering sadness and anger can be signs of personal problems – even depression.
  • Step into funk: It’s easy to simply avoid and keep your distance from negative individuals, but this strategy is not an option for leaders. In private, leaders must respectfully ask for permission to address the employee’s behavior. Yes, it is difficult to have such conversations, but the consequence of avoiding them is worse. Patiently and clearly describe what you and fellow team members are experiencing. Keep the conversation safe and allow the individual to share his or her perspective as to what’s causing the behavior. You may not get to the real issue, but what is important is that you acknowledged that there is a behavior problem that needs to be resolved.
  • Next steps: Never leave an attitude conversation without agreeing to next steps. You must keep the process moving forward. Schedule another meeting in 24 hours to allow the individual to digest what you have shared. It is very likely that the individual is unaware how his or her attitude is impacting other team members. Very often, the simple process of allowing an individual to discuss or vent problems and concerns is all it takes to resolve work-related behavior issues.
  • Big problem: If you’re the one who succumbed to the dark side, you are the big problem. In coaching, my toughest challenge is working with owners and leaders who view everyone else as the problem. So, if you’ve been walking around aggravated, angry, depressed and verbally spewing toxic waste, it’s time to look in the mirror and acknowledge that the face you see is the problem. In 2007, I had a bout with depression and it was affecting my company. I got help, starting working out and found a new passion in bike riding. Looking back, the entire episode seems surreal and I will never allow myself to go there again. Leading a business is tough work. Recognize when you lose balance and get help.
  • Know when to end it: Leaders cannot guide every individual to be a contributor and achieve his or her full potential. When efforts to address negative behavior show little or no signs of improvement, you need to make a tough decision. Allowing the toxicity to continue is not an option. There are times when it is in the best interest of the employee, the team and the company to part ways. No compromise.
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Please share your thoughts with me about today’s Monday Morning Wake-Up. Click above to comment.
Neil Ducoff, Founder & CEO of Strategies and author of No-Compromise Leadership

Pass this e-mail on to your business colleagues, managers and friends. They’ll appreciate it.

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