Ideally, business in your organization should hum along like a well-tuned machine. However, humans are not machines, and few workplaces are free of the tensions created by negative attitudes, interpersonal squabbles and even hostility between co-workers. This behavior impedes office communications and negatively affects productivity.
Tish Squillaro is founder of CANDOR Consulting, a Philadelphia-based management consulting firm that advises executives. She specializes in helping business leaders become “unstuck” and drive success through leveraging human capital. She is co-author of “HeadTrash” and “HeadTrash2,” books that offer tips on dealing with the emotions that create toxic workplace environments. Here she discusses “headtrash” and offers constructive ways to deal with toxic employees.
In your books, you define headtrash as “thought patterns and emotional tendencies that hinder your ability to respond to business issues.” What are these emotional tendencies?
There are seven different types of HeadTrash: fear, insecurity, anger, guilt, control, arrogance and paranoia. All of us manifest these emotions at certain times throughout our lives, and that is a normal part of being human. However, it’s how we manage them that defines our style and interpersonal skills as individuals. When they become threats to our thinking and decision-making, we consider it as “crossing the line” and going from emotion to HeadTrash.
Employees who are negative or have difficulty working with others create a toxic work environment. Is it possible to identify the emotional issues driving these behaviors so they may be addressed?
A toxic work environment or a “drama-filled environment” is caused by emotions that have gone too far. “HeadTrash 2” offers tips for recognizing when these emotions have gotten out of hand and can actually have an impact on the company. For example, healthy fear is when someone becomes cautious, but still proceeds with making decisions or dealing with difficult situations. A toxic or unhealthy environment is when fear morphs into HeadTrash and starts to prevent a person from being able to make choices at all, halting progress and impacting productivity. When it gets to this point, it’s time to address these behaviors and start on the path to fix them.
What is the best way to approach a person whose behavior is causing friction in the workplace?
Engaging in difficult conversations is never easy, but it needs to be done to address the problems that are being caused. When approaching a hard topic, first try using the power of humor. Most people respond well to a humorous comment or making fun of yourself to offset the defensiveness of the other person. Ease the tension, then jump into the discussion that needs to happen.
Keep in mind that most people don’t respond well to loud voices and aggressive body language. Try to provide a story or lesson that is less about them personally and more about the situation that is happening around them. No matter what, avoid the tendency to procrastinate when taking this on. Don’t let a negative situation fester or sit for too long because it will make it that much harder to address later.
Can you suggest techniques for dealing with negative, complaining employees?
The best way to stop chronic negativity is to subtly send a message that your organization’s culture is one that doesn’t tolerate complainers. Once this type of person finds there is no audience for their complaints, they’ll stop. If you don’t want to wait for that to happen, try removing the negativity as quickly as possible. Remember, negativity spreads quickly, so if you have to discuss the complaints of an employee more than once, it’s time to consider whether the benefits they provide your organization are outweighed by their negative effects on morale.
This article was written by Gillian Burdett for Small Business Pulse