We all know at least one, the perennial naysayer. No matter what the discussion, from a great place to go on vacation to a major change in your organization, their response is always the same. “Nope. Not happening. I don’t think so.”
Well, these folks have a name. They are CAVE dwellers (Citizens Against Virtually Everything). Unfortunately, they are not as much fun as Fred Flintstone or his pal Barney Rubble. They cause disruption in your organization, and their attitude is contagious. So how do you handle this dangerous species?
The first step when dealing with CAVE people is to understand what type of naysayer you have. Yes, they come in different flavors. Writer Susan Milligan broke down four types of naysayers in a blog post for the Society for Human Resource Management titled “The Whiner, Know-It-All and Naysayer Can Make the Workplace a Drag.”
The Whiner, Milligan wrote, engages in a steady stream of complaints. They complain about everything from the boss to the color of the paint in the break room. What to do? Here are three pieces of advice from Mike Rogers, president of The Teamwork and Leadership Company:
- Ask questions. When they whine, ask them what they are going to do about it. This shifts the responsibility back on the employee.
- Help them see the bigger picture.
- Create team dos and don’ts and put “No Whining” at the top of the list. Create a “No Whining Jar” and use the money to treat the group to lunch.
The Negativist, Milligan wrote, can be counted on to rain on the parade. Negativists have a dozen reasons why something can’t be done. Susan Heathfield, in “How to Manage a Negative Employee” on The Balance Careers website, offers these coping tips:
- Inform these employees that their negativity is having an impact on co-workers, bringing everyone down.
- Ask them what is causing the negativity at work. Actively listen to the response.
- Focus on creating solutions. Look for options for how these employees can create positive morale.
- Focus on the positive aspects of their performance and potential contributions.
- Try to compliment them in future interactions.
The Excuse Maker, Milligan wrote, substitutes excuses for results. Nothing is ever their fault. The Excuse Maker accepts no responsibility, instead placing blame on colleagues, clients, the computer—and sometimes even you. Anne Loehr, in a Huffington Post blog titled “How to Effectively Manage Difficult Employees: The Excuse-Maker,” offers the 5Cs when working with such an employee:
- Commit or quit. If you decide to try to salvage these employees, you must remember that you are making a firm and serious commitment to their future.
- Communicate. Have a frank and open conversation in which you come to an agreement on a definition of the problem. Determine how you will work together to solve it.
- Clarify Goals and Roles. Don’t assume these employees know exactly what is expected of them. Have a detailed discussion on responsibilities and goals.
- Coach. These employees will need your assistance if you want a long-term change of attitude. Coaching is your most powerful and flexible tool.
- Create Accountability. To avoid any backsliding in behavior, create a system to hold them accountable for their results.
The Gossip, according to Milligan, can be the most dangerous CAVE dweller of all. The emotional damage that workplace gossip can cause destroys trust, the foundation of high-functioning teams, resulting in a loss in productivity. In a Forbes article, “5 Ways to Stop Negative Office Gossip,” Lisa Quast offers the following tips:
- Address the perpetrators, face to face, in a confidential location. Help them understand the impact their behavior is having on the team and the consequences if their behavior continues (from a written warning to a demotion and job loss).
- Meet with the entire team and let them know you will not tolerate gossip.
Zane Safrit, in his blog “Beware the C.A.V.E Dwellers in Your Organization,” tells us, “These are the…nattering nabobs of negativity, the expert marksmen who shoot down every idea with a question or a snark or sarcasm or a poignant pause. They are expert in all the reasons things don’t work, won’t work, never will work.”
While you can’t change them, you can inspire them, offer them resources and remove obstacles. If they insist on remaining in the CAVE, you might need to remove them from your group. They will only lead your team into unhappiness and failure.
Safrit offers ideas on how to entice them out of their caves.
- Offer them food. No, not literally (unless you think that would work). Offer incentives that are meaningful to them. Reward the right behavior.
- Entice them to take small steps toward change and reward each step with meaningful incentives.
- Create a safe environment for change, which is excellent for everyone but especially important to risk-averse CAVE dwellers. They learned somewhere along the way that mistakes are bad and are punished. You need to teach them a new process.
With time, patience and some of these tips, you will be on your way to helping your CAVE dwellers channel their heart and their positive energy to the benefit of your firm.
McDaid is The Council’s SVP of Leadership and Management Resources. firstname.lastname@example.org