“Don’t stoop to their level.”
Turns out that common-sense advice is right – especially when it comes to supervising the whiners, bullies and cynics in your workplace.
Like irritating neighbors who always let their leaves blow onto your lawn, it’s not easy to get rid of them – so you learn to live with them.
Problem is, so do the other employees who work for you.
Resourceful managers know you can’t always pick and choose the temperaments and personality traits of your employees. If we could, we’d simply clone those who were the most cooperative, sincere and hard-working. (Sadly, science hasn’t reached that point!)
So how do you prevent these attitudes from becoming toxic and the prevailing culture for those you manage? Don’t take your cues from them, or let them lead others down the path to the Dark Side.
Good managers can and should consciously set the tone for their departments.
Rules of Engagement
Fostering a work climate of openness, honesty and tolerance is the top way to prevent negative behaviors from taking root.
But if that doesn’t work, it’s time to employ defter communication skills that can dispel the whiners, cynics and bullies – or at least encourage a change of heart.
In his “Ten Commandments of Confrontation,” author John Maxwell cautions that simply being “nice” only goes so far.
“’Treat others the way you would want to be treated’ is a noble principle, but when giving corrective feedback consider more how the recipient would want to be treated,” Maxwell writes.
Using some of Maxwell’s Commandments concepts, try applying these responses to manage workplace bullies and cynics.
1) The Passive-Aggressive Whiner
They always seem agreeable at first, shrugging “Yeah, why not?” But you can detect their cynical attitude.
Commandment to follow: Thou shalt avoid sarcasm (even in email or text).
Cynicism can float around the office like a cold-weather flu – one person sneezes and the misery can spread like wildfire. Which means that getting cynical with cynics isn’t a good remedy.
Trying to one-up sarcasm only drags the conversation away from what’s important. Instead, emphasize how everyone’s active participation, skills and enthusiasm is necessary for whatever project it is you’re doing.
2) The Over-the-Top Thespian
They think the method to winning approval or attention is a potential Oscar nomination and hike the drama so far no one else comes close.
Commandment to follow: Thou shalt not apologize for confrontation.
No matter how operatic this employee gets, backing down will only accomplish one thing: Letting the actor or actress end on a bullying high note.
Allow the drama queen (or king) to have their say, but don’t respond in kind. Facing off in a soliloquy contest never solves anything, and can only make a conflict situation worse.
3) The Above-It-All Bore
They’ve been there and done that, like, TONS of times before, so why should your new proposals/ideas be any different?
Commandment to follow: Thou shalt ask questions and offer suggestions.
Don’t let encounters with these workplace cynics end in a shrug. If you get resistance, ask why they’re resisting. Do they have a better idea? Do they feel a different approach is needed? Asking for specifics forces them to snap out of their knee-jerk complacency and actually contribute.
The danger here is allowing your other employees to get dragged into Cynicville. Bad attitudes can unfortunately be contagious, so it’s always best to stop this vine from spreading before it covers the entire department.
4) The Never-Shuts-Up Complainer
They never met a solution that they couldn’t convert into a problem. Even the best ideas or answers aren’t good enough.
Commandment to follow: Thou shalt deal only with actions that can be changed.
Whining complainers like to bring up problems before they even happen, and can bully other co-workers into seeing things their way even if their complaints aren’t merited.
Explain to your team that you’re open to suggestions and even criticism, but your job isn’t to argue your way to getting them to do their duties.
5) The We’re-All-Doomed-Anyway Cynic
They’ve been in the trenches for so long, they can spot guaranteed failure before you even get your idea off the ground.
Commandment to follow: Thou shalt avoid words like always and never because they’re rarely accurate.
Never try to counter-punch the Doomed Cynic with overstatements of your own. Your job is to impress your team with your own positive outlook; and to back it up with the information and details to show why.
Something to consider: Could this cynical behavior be partly your fault? Have you been ignoring how well you engage employees? If your team is so unmotivated that they need a pep talk prior to every new project, it’s time for a fresher, positive approach.
6) The Drop-The-Mic Bully
They always have to have the last word—so if you or someone else tries to claim it, look out. The bully has spoken and everyone else has to get over it.
Commandment to follow: Thou shalt confront as soon as possible and not look for “a better time.”
When dealing with an “I’m-outta-here” bully, there’s no time like the present to respond and resolve whatever the confrontation is about. Waiting will only lessen the effectiveness of your own point.
As manager, you shouldn’t feel compelled to allow an overly assertive employee put an end to discourse. Hear them out – but make sure you offer a rebuttal. Even if the discussion needs to be continued elsewhere, it sends the message to your other employees that the group reaches the consensus – not one person.
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What’s your secret commandment to quieting your workplace bullies and cynics? Share in the comment section!
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