No matter where it happens, negativity leads to a breakdown in morale. The strange part is that it isn’t always easy to spot the negative person on your staff. They could even appear to be positive and supportive but, over time, the underlying negative message they are sending out can do a tremendous amount of damage to your dairy!
On a day to day basis, these negative folks don’t generally make big mistakes that set themselves up as targets. In fact, they’re usually good at their jobs and, therefore, don’t attract attention. However, like a contagious disease, their negativity attacks the work and achievements of others and ultimately affects the bottom line of the entire dairy operation.
How Does Negativity Get Started?
Here are six ways that negativity infects a workplace: (1) complaining, (2) exaggerating problems (3) gossip (4) rumors (5) innuendo and (6) criticism. As you looked at that list, you probably recognized each of the negatives. It is embarrassing to acknowledge that we all, at one time or another, have been guilty of using one or more of these ways of communicating at work. It’s true. Nobody’s perfect. But it is also a fact that work life and success improves enormously when you strive to eliminate using any of these to negatively affect fellow workers.
The whole process of trying to improve obviously starts with the recognition that there are problems. But there is a difference between trying to correct something and continually complaining about everything. Positive criticism turns on a willingness to be an active participant in finding the solution. Negative staff merely voice a defeatist attitude and offer up unending complaints.
There will always be a full range of good and bad perceptions regarding the effectiveness of the day to day happenings on a 24/7 dairy. It is particularly damaging if problems are reported as threats that are so exaggerated that it spreads concern and hasty or perhaps counter-productive decision-making. For example, it’s one thing to deal with a health problem in calves or heifers. It’s another to incite panic through emphatic misrepresentation of details on the numbers affected or the ability to turn the situation around. Negative staff love to point fingers at co-workers who are “always screwing up” or “never” in control of their responsibilities.
By it’s very nature, gossip causes irreparable damage. Although it is easily spread, the source of gossip is very difficult to pin down or verify. The juicier the story, the more likely it may be accepted as true. Once one employee is pitted against another, real damage can be the result of childish story-telling.
Sometimes the worst problems have no actual basis in fact. The rumor mill spits out a suggestion and, in no time, it becomes accepted as fact. Unfortunately, perception is reality, regardless of whether it is truth or lies.
Rarely does a negative staff member have the courage of his or her convictions. They proudly and loudly recognize what is wrong, but they don’t go to the source in a spirit of making things better. Instead they are masters of innuendo. They prefer to stay well below the radar so as not to draw attention to themselves and, by doing so, the problems are rarely recognized and become even less likely to be dealt with in a timely manner.
Teams rely on the respect given to bosses and supervisors, but a never-ending flow of criticism builds a momentum that eventually swamps even the best intentions. Many a good manager has had their authority and effectiveness undermined by negativity getting a grip on their staff.
Stop! Look! Listen! And Act!
- It’s already too late if the first sign you have of an bad employee attitude manifests itself in major disruption of your dairy
- Regularly check for employee actions and attitude that differ from the team as a whole so that you are aware if negativity is having an impact on your staff.
- The first step is to identify the actions of the negative staff member and make it clear to him or her that continuing these actions will not be tolerated and to emphasize how it could improve morale and productivity if they were to be positive.
Establish A Positive Policy
It is one thing to criticize negative behavior. It is much better is to establish a policy for benchmarking appropriate behavior. One example of a policy statement could be something like this:
“Each staff member will demonstrate professional behavior that supports the entire team (insert the name of your dairy) and contributes to performance and productivity.”
Having such a policy in place is the beginning of establishing a good framework. The next step is day-to-day coaching and training that keeps the message getting through to the front lines. It isn’t like a missed step in a machine or feeding protocol. Negativity is not as obvious as that and, therefore, can be difficult to bring out into the open.
It’s human nature to want to delay having a tough conversation with an employee who has a bad attitude. But that only makes things worse.
And since it’s going to be a tough conversation, it’s recommended that supervisors prepare for the discussion. After all, your goal is to turn a confrontation about negativity into positive communication. Here are some suggestions.
- Be specific. Don’t generalize. In the simplest terms, you would like to tell your employee. “You have a bad attitude. It needs to change!” Even though that is accurate, it is also so general that it could have no effect. Instead, you need a specific example and recommendation. “Your criticism of your co-workers behind their backs is undermining the entire team. From now on, if you can’t offer support, please don’t say anything at all.”
- Gather Examples. While it is important to have specific examples to illustrate the behavior, it is also important not to dump an entire load on the staff person. You don’t use the problem to cure the problem. The goal is clarity, not an accusation.
- Expect to hear a defense. It is a sign of respect and positive intentions for the future to allow the negative staff person an opportunity to vent their side of the discussion. If the staffer were adept at accepting and handling criticism, they would probably not be the type to disperse negativity upon others. Furthermore, they could feel they are being judged, and they are, and it is human nature to want an opportunity to mount a defense.
- Steer the conversation toward results that are good for everybody. Avoid accusation and encourage acceptance of the idea that the identified problem is something that “we need to change.” There can’t be a positive outcome of any kind if the entire responsibility for the behavior is put on the employee.
- Don’t start a fight. It is all too easy to start off saying, “You have a bad attitude and everybody knows it.” Once those fighting words are out there, there is no turning back to a more constructive situation. Acknowledge your role in either continuing the negative behavior or in turning it into a win-win for everyone.
- Little Words Can Make a BIG Difference. When we are faced with delivering criticism, we often lead with praise. For example, “You are doing a good job in the milking parlor” and then we lower the boom with, “but you’re attitude with co-workers is causing a problem.” Not only have you reduced the effect of the praise, but you have also linked it to something negative. It would be surprising if the employee thought or said, “You can never just give a pat on the back. You always have to be critical!”
- Substitute “And” for “But” and “However.” Before you water down your praise of an employee, consider a simple change. “You’re doing a pretty good job, and we need to talk about how to get you to show more respect for all of the dairy team.”
- Don’t feel you have to fill in the Blanks None of us likes to be on either side of a difficult As the manager, you need to be prepared when gaps develop in the conversation. Trying to fill every lull will not resolve the problem. Let your staff person consider and respond, as he or she is able. Sometimes remaining silent is the most effective way for proper consideration to be given to the problem.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
Although it takes a combination of teacher, counselor, and sheriff to manage negative people, there are some proven ways to deal with bad attitudes. Letting things work themselves out is NOT an option. Of that, you can be positive!!