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Ask The Expert : Help! One person’s negativity is affecting my whole team.

 

Question
I have a member of staff who is always moaning about her job, family life and even her health.  Her moans can bring the whole mood of the department down and, at times, I think that she is just attention seeking.  How can I get her to improve her outlook on life and prevent her pessimistic mood from affecting the rest of my team?

Answer
Everything that we do, think or say is based on habit and learned behaviour. All of us have good habits and behaviours but may also have some that are less good or constructive. That is just part of the human condition.

The atmosphere and function within the group can be severely affected by just one individual. Have you ever had to spend a day with one very difficult or negative individual? Probably at the end of that day you felt drained and only too glad to go home. Some American psychologists call these individuals energy vampires. There are also individuals who are described as guilt or stress chuckers.

There is a lot of truth in the old saying: ‘Is the glass half full or half empty?’  Each of us has a tendency to be an optimist or a pessimist and this also varies from situation to situation.  There is an old Scottish saying: ‘Do not worry there is worse to come!’

As far as the individual mentioned in this question is concerned, as she seems to be negative about so many things and most of the time, she may require professional assessment to ensure that she is not suffering from a depression requiring treatment, either drug and/or therapy. Also many individuals who appear to be attention seekers may be suffering from low self-esteem and also may require help.

One of the most effective treatments for individuals who are thinking in negative ways is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and this can be carried out within the NHS, though in some areas there can be quite a long waiting list.  There is also a branch of psychology called Positive Psychology.

Many individuals with these states have very little insight that their behaviour has been learnt, though often in therapy they start to realise that they may have learnt it from a family member, who also thought in these ways. Other individuals learned how to be positive, happy, resilient, etc from family, friends, and mentors that they encountered.

In reality we become what we think about and, just as we learnt to think one way, we can learn how to think in other ways. Over a period of months the individual can develop completely new positive thoughts and habits.

As regards the last part of the question “How can I prevent her pessimistic mood from affecting the rest of my team?”  One method is for team members to be taught how to disassociate from negativity emanating from the individual. One technique from neuro-linguistic programming is to imagine that the individual is on a stage having her dramas and that the group are the audience sitting in the front row of the dress circle.

They can then learn to observe her dramas and realise that they are not their own and they can dissociate from them. In other words individuals with high emotional intelligence can even be in a comparatively peaceful state where the negative remarks are like water off a duck’s back.  This does not mean that one does not have compassion nor try to help, but it does mean that one is not negatively emotionally involved.

This article’s expert was Dr David Mason Brown.

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