Let say you are a supervisor to someone that is always negative at the workplace, what are you going to do to him/her? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Ryan Bonnici, CMO at G2 Crowd, on Quora:

Handling workplace negativity is one of the trickier tasks of being the boss. But it's essential.

Workers with bad attitudes can be deeply destructive to any business. A Harvard Business School study found that "even relatively modest levels of toxic behavior can cause major organizational cost, including customer loss, loss of employee morale, increased turnover, and loss of legitimacy among important external stakeholders."

Toxic workers -- those who engage in behavior harmful to the organization -- can also lower productivity and lead great workers to leave a team, the study said. The economic cost of a toxic worker is far bigger than the benefit of having a "superstar" on a team.

As former senior director of global marketing at HubSpot, and now CMO of G2 Crowd, I've figured out ways to fix this problem, and the steps to take before showing someone the door.

Open communication

It starts with having open communication throughout my entire team. I work to build direct relationships not just with my reports, but with their reports as well. I want everyone to know that if there's a big problem that they think deserves my attention, I'm ready to hear it.

Often, as boss you won't know about someone's negativity until it's brought to your attention, because workers with negative attitudes act differently in front of you.

Three-part assessment

Once I've been made aware of the problem, I discuss it with the employee's manager so that they're in the loop. Then, I reach out directly to the person whose behavior is a problem. But giving him or her general criticism such as "you're too negative" is useless. Instead, I provide three key pieces of information: the situation, behavior and impact.

For example, I recently explained to a member of my team that in meetings (the situation), their comments and questions are always negative (the behavior). This person was only suggesting or highlighting problems with other people's ideas, without offering any positive feedback or support. I then explained that these kinds of actions will make it harder for them to build relationships and be successful in the organization (the impact). I finished up by saying something like, "I trust that you know we want you to be successful here. So how can we best support you to overcome this moving forward?"

By focusing my remarks this way, I'm trying to avoid a sense that it's a personal attack. It's never personal. And I give the employee a chance to respond, observe their actions and change course.

Call it out when you see it

Even when employees want to improve their attitudes, they may be so used to negativity that they don't realize what they're doing. So it's important to point out these examples as soon as possible after they happen.

In fact, almost immediately after we spoke, this employee -- as if on autopilot -- made a remark to me disparaging a co-worker. I nearly lost it, but attempted to keep my calm on the outside. "Hey, that conversation we just had -- I'm not trying to get you down here, but you literally just did it again," I said. "There's nothing constructive about that negative comment you just made."

Ever since, this person has done a great job reducing the negativity and improving their behavior.

When to fire

But sometimes, the person simply isn't a good cultural fit. When they show they can't or won't change, it's time to let them go.

It's important to do this quickly, before they corrode the team from within. Toxic workers "infect their neighbors very quickly," the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University reports. Even just having a toxic worker on the same floor as you can increases your risk of becoming toxic yourself.

What if this employee is terrific or highly skilled in other ways? Even still, it's not worth the risk of keeping them around. In fact, their negativity will probably make them less productive anyway. "Negative-minded workers are more likely to become mentally fatigued and defensive and experience a drop-off in production," Michigan State University's Broad College of Business found.

In fact, businesses would benefit from tracking workplace positivity as a metric in their performance management software.

None of this means that workplace criticism is a bad thing. Constructive criticism is an important part of any successful organization. The key is for any criticism to serve as part of a positive effort to help the organization be successful -- and to be presented with respect and appreciation.

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Published on: Oct 24, 2018