During one of my workshops, I was drinking a beer in the evening with Dragoș, one of the managers. It was clear for me that Dragos liked his job. He talked enthusiastic about the company and the way they worked together. His face changed when he started talking about his team. He was leading a team of 12 people, nice people and hard-working, he told me, only Liviu was a drama.
Without asking, he was telling me that Liviu was always negative, only saw problems and never came up with solutions. What was even worse is that he shared all his negative thoughts and problems with the other team members. Liviu influenced the other team members and also him, so the atmosphere wasn’t what Dragos thought it could be. He looked to his glass and gave a deep sigh.
This situation is probably recognizable for almost all of us. People in a team, like Liviu, who are negative, complain all the time, never give a solution and are toxic for the other team members and the boss. But can you do something as a manager in this situation? Yes, off course, but most of the time you need some patience before you will see results.
First of all: Are you aware how much time Dragos spent dealing with Liviu? Far too much. Liviu got more attention than the others. And the other team members actually deserve the most support and attention. Indeed, the people who are doing well. They make your work as manager nice and meaningful.
And be aware, negative attention is also attention. So, Liviu has learned that the more he is complaining and toxic the more attention he gets. Till a certain point. Then people and Dragos realized that it has no use to react or listen. So, Liviu takes care that he is more negative and more toxic. Taking energy from everyone including the manager.
A first step in solving this problem to ask the Liviu’s of this world is every time they come up with a problem or a complain is to ask if they have a solution for the problem. If they say ‘no’ what is probably the case with them, ask them nicely to think about a possible solution and come back to you when they have one proposal. Sometimes Liviu is trying to be smart and he will say that it's the manager task to give a solution. Immediately ask then what is the role of Liviu in the company. Only complaining and whining? Because those people you don't need in the company. I know it is direct, but be aware that the Liviu’s are also not nice for you. Doing this for a few times Liviu will start to understand that only complaining and whining only gives him more work. And that what he doesn't want. Keep the interactions short. You can't control the negative person, but you can control wether or not you engage.
When you must talk to Liviu, leave out your emotions. Give him decent but short answers. Take care that he doesn't take your energy, it's not worth it. Take also care that you choose when you want discuss with him regarding the content. In other words, choose your battles. Not everything they come up with is important or a priority. Choose only to discuss things that really matters business wise.
As said before, the Liviu’s in this world have too much attention compared with the good performing people. Shift your attention to that people and give them also a positive feedback. Liviu gets less attention and has the choice to continue with his negative behavior or he will shift also to a more positive attitude. And if he is doing that, for example by giving a possible solution, even if it is clumsy, praise him. Tell him that this is the behavior and attitude you want to see constantly from him.
I give also often the advice to a manager to sit together and discuss open the situation. Give clearly the feedback that you don’t want to work with a ‘Liviu’ and that you have also a responsibility to all other team members who deserve better. Don’t be to shy in the feedback but don’t do it emotionally. Be very clear in the behavior you want to see with people. When I was manager myself I had a “Liviu” in my department. In a meeting with him I asked what all was wrong. Actually, in short, he said that almost everything was wrong. I responded that I didn't understand that he was still working in the company, and that he wasn’t obliged too work I this company. But I said also that the situation couldn't continue and I didn't want to work with him if he didn't change fast.
I assumed in this article that people are working in a normal work environment. If that is the case and if the advices don't help and Liviu stays irrational dismiss him. You have also a responsibility to the wellbeing of other team members.