How to Lead a Negative Team Member

David M. Dye
8 min readAug 10, 2022
negative team member

When you have a negative team member, strive to understand what’s happening.

Leading a negative team member can be frustrating. You have a vision, and you’re energized about your new solution, but they’re skeptical, critical, and keep bringing up problems.

Or, you have to translate new strategic objectives to your team and one person just can’t seem to go there. They shake their head, sigh, and say things like, “Who comes up with these ideas? That’s got to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Perhaps you ask for their ideas and they cross their arms, purse their lips and say nothing. When you ask what’s going on, they smirk and say, “Right, like you really want our ideas.”

Why You Have a Negative Team Member

When you see a consistent pattern of negativity from someone on your team, it can be tempting to jump in and try to coach them out of it. But until you understand where their negativity comes from, that’s a mistake. You might miss a big chance to improve your leadership, fix a problem, or truly help the person be more effective.

There are four areas that can create the behaviors we interpret as negative — and only one of them is a situation where coaching would be most appropriate.

1. Your Leadership

One common cause of employee negativity is poor leadership. Before addressing a negative team member’s behavior, do a self-audit of these common frustrations and make sure you’re not inadvertently causing the negativity.

Toxic Courage Crushers — If you use shame, blame, intimidation, and fear to get results, you can expect negativity and fear in return. You can use these negative emotions to get people moving, but they come with a high price. Your team won’t trust you, they won’t want to give more than their minimum effort, and you certainly won’t get any creativity or problem-solving.

Solution: Eliminate these toxic behaviors from your leadership before doing anything else. Otherwise, you are modeling and asking for the very behaviors that frustrate you.

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David M. Dye

I work with human-centered leaders to help them get results without sacrificing their humanity. I’m an author, consultant, podcast host, and love to hike.