3 Ways To Help The Naysayer On Your Team

02/15/2018 14:12 EST | Updated 02/15/2018 14:12 EST
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Have you ever had a naysayer or your team? You know, a person who has an uncanny ability to point out every disadvantage and the slightest risk. Perhaps you work with one now. This article is for anyone who works with a negative team member – a cynic who easily and frequently points out fault. This article is not about managing toxic or chronically angry employees; those are bigger challenges and may need assistance from human resources to get connected to some external counselling.

If you have a naysayer in your midst I invite you to step back and do a bit of an assessment and consider these three things.

  • People who point out potential risks are valuable. Sure, it gets annoying if cynicism is their natural state. But, when their negativity is balanced and relevant, (they likely need your help to learn how to do this), their observations can provide opportunity for the team to take something that is good and make it great.
  • Many naysayers may not realize the impact their negativity has on your teams' overall mood and creativity. Most naysayers want to be part of a productive team and do feel they are helping. In fact, they often get surprised (and hurt), when people respond impatiently.
  • Ask yourself, "Are they really negative, or are they not as enthusiastic as you?" Take it from this introvert – sometimes my quiet, reflective silence is interpreted as being uninterested... and therefore negative, opposition or disagreement. I've been called arrogant by some people who just meet me – and once they get to know me they call me helpful and thoughtful.

So, if we consider most naysayers may not notice their impact and only want to be part of a productive team, what matters is how we – as their leader (or perhaps parents or partners), help maximize their contribution while minimizing any damage they may cause. Let's look at how!

Resolution / How To Help Your Naysayer

Take it from me – a recovering naysayer who had someone point out my communication style to me a long long time ago, your naysayer will be grateful for you pointing it out... but please be mindful of how you approach the conversation.

Many of us have learned our communication style over many years from our family, teachers. And it is likely your naysayers behaviour has also been influenced by their first boss or two. So, now is your chance to be a boss who has a positive influence on them. Here are three steps on how you can begin to help your naysayer.

  • Step 1. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Because they are a cynic they've probably worn down your patience... but for this exercise see if you can look on their participation with fresh eyes... at least for a little while.
    Try to see them as more than negative... try to see them as they may see themselves... as helpful, valuable members of your team. If you've been around your naysayer for awhile, it's natural you may have learned to pre-judge and ignore them or what they say as 'chronic noise' – try to override this instinct.
  • Step 2. Have a one-on-one discussions with your naysayer. Do this sooner rather than later. It's easy to say, "it's not that bad" or "they will come around eventually." Well... it probably is that bad.
    It may be a difficult conversation... it may be uncomfortable... but this is important, and you can do it. Negative people often take down the energy of the team... or stop creative conversation because nobody wants to 'deal with them'. This is bad for the team, the customers and the company. This can also lead to higher turnover of other valuable team members. You don't want to lose valuable people because of a naysayer on your team. If your naysayer is a new employee – set them straight early. If you have just taken over a department – do it early in your new role.
  • Step 3. Share what you see with your naysayer. Talk with them about the impact their approach has on others. Don't call them moody or tell them they have a bad attitude... this may shut them down.
    Start with a supportive sentence, perhaps something like, "Greg, professional development is something I try to support with my team. Can I give you some feedback that may be difficult for you to hear but I think can be an important growth opportunity for you?" What comes next from you should be nonaggressive stories, some specific examples of the behaviour you've witnessed (it cannot be hear-say), where you think they were trying to be helpful, but it was interpreted as negative.

See your naysayers emotions and input as valuable, but help them adjust their communication style so that they can make the world - or the project as good as they want it to be. Unfortunately, dealing with tough situations from time-to-time is part of what it's like to be a leader.


Every organization has one or two negative people. Ignoring them is not a viable option. If you have a trusting relationship with them you should be able to successfully point out their impact and help them adjust. Never undervalue the benefit of connecting with other people. I'm sure you will be able to turn your naysayers energy around and help them become the enabler they likely think they are.

When you are speaking with someone, stay present to what you are needing, feeling and believing... and what you think they are needing, feeling and believing; this goes for your naysayer and everyone else, in every conversation you have.

Happy communicating, mentoring, listening and learning.

Click here to learn more about Bruce Mayhew Consulting. We facilitate courses including email etiquette, time management, leadership, generational differences training... and more.