Quieting the Naysayers

29 Apr

We all know naysayers, people with a less than positive attitude. The dictionary describes a naysayer as someone with “an aggressively negative attitude.”

Aggressively negative, yikes.

Okay, we all have probably been naysayers at one time in our work life. Things happen at work and we can get crabby, hopefully for just a while. However, I think we can all agree that too much naysaying, too many aggressively negative attitudes, can seriously damage the culture of a workplace.

How do we stop naysaying?

I had the opportunity to interview an executive whose organization participated in an Employees Know wellbeing idea management project, an effort designed to gain employee feedback about what could be done to improve individual and organizational wellbeing. She was very pleased with the process that brought forward employee ideas. This process included the creation of a “unity council” to manage the project and communicate with employees who forwarded wellbeing ideas. Most of the ideas had been implemented in a few short months, and was looking forward to conducting the process again the following year. I asked her if she saw any additional benefits to the process we had not discussed. Her answer was a pleasant surprise: “Mark, our culture is different. In particular, the naysaying that we used to have is gone.”

The naysaying is gone???

She told me that previous to this process there were several individuals who always seemed to be negative about, well, anything and everything. Moreover, they were quite vocal, and like a bad virus would spread their negative attitudes to others. As the wellbeing idea management process unfolded, something seemed to happen in the organization, something quite unexpected. When employees (whether naysayer or not) saw that employee ideas were being taken seriously and then implemented within a short period of time, the naysayers seemed to lose their footing.  The naysaying went away. “Our work environment is now much more positive, and not just about wellbeing but about other things. Just going through the process has contributed to our wellbeing”, she said.

In our consulting work, we’ve seen three different groups vie for control of this part of the culture, the part that allows, or at least tolerates, negative attitudes. They are:

  • “Hard-Core-Naysayers”,
  • “Swing-Vote-Naysayers”, and
  • “People-Who-Put-Up-With-Naysayers”.

Here’s what I think happened to these groups as a result of the wellbeing idea management process:

  • The “Swing-Vote-Naysayers”, who didn’t like to gripe but felt like they had some legitimate complaints, stopped griping because, well, they no longer had a reason to gripe. They were glad that leadership stepped up and responded. As long as leadership continues to be open to processes such as this, they’ll be just fine.
  • The “People-Who-Put-Up-With-Naysayers” were as pleased as they could be, because they had ammunition to tell the hard-core naysayers to stop it. This made them smile. Some of them are smiling because they can stop looking for a new job because they were sick of the negativity.
  • The “Hard-Core-Naysayers” stopped because they lost their audience. It’s hard to naysay when lots of positive things are happening around and to you that came largely from feedback from your peers. Some may be looking for another place to naysay—we’ll miss them but wish them well.

Idea management killed naysaying at this organization! In truth, what killed the naysaying was a manager who encouraged employee feedback, was able to truly hear what employees were concerned about, and acted in way that helped employees know they were heard. We call that leadership.

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