Nov 16, 2021

How to Lead a Pessimist

Have you ever worked or served with a pessimist?  Here's an example. Your team sits down for a brainstorming meeting.  You have some new ideas you'd like to discuss for your upcoming fall festival. 

Someone shares an idea and most of the team likes it.  But then there is Jill.  The team pessimist jumps in and begins to tell everyone why the idea won't work.  

You can feel the energy and excitement vacate the room.  Momentum is lost and you drag everyone through the rest of the meeting.

Does this sound familiar?  Do you have a pessimist on your team?  Someone who always sees the negative side and is very vocal about it?  Someone who drags the rest of the team down?  Someone who always pokes holes in everything, always has a bad attitude and points out why things are not going to work.  They seem to always be in a bad mood and display an attitude of negativity.  A pessimist can disrupt a team culture and affect the production of the other team members.

The word pessimism is from a Latin world - pessimus.  It means "the worst."  A pessimist takes a negative event and allows it to ruin their day or week or even month. 

Here's a little humor so we won't get dominated by pessimism.

Someone said to always borrow money from a pessimist.  They will never expect it back.

What do you call two pessimists that are dating?  A double negative.

What blood type do pessimists have?  B-negative.

All humor aside, you cannot let a pessimist put a damper on the rest of the team. 

Here's what to do if you have a pessimist on your team.

#1 - Find out why they are a pessimist.  Often behind the pessimism is resentment, insecurity, jealously or anger. 

#2 - Let the person know they are having a negative effect on the team.  Balance this with a positive statement that tells them they are valued and appreciated.

#3 - Give them a specific example of a negative statement or action they have made recently.  Help them see how this can hinder the team.  

#4 - When they make a negative statement counter it with a positive statement.

#5 - Provide the pessimist with coaching and feedback.  Their pessimism may be a blind spot they don't realize they have.  Bring up their negative behavior, actions and words that you would like to see them improve in. 

#6 - Don't let the conflict turn you into part of the problem.  Avoid responding with side conversations or criticism of the negative person to other people.  

#7 - Give them an outlet to air their complaints while at the same time being optimistic. Ask them to name some positive things that are working for them and what they would change to make it even better.  When pessimists feel like they are being heard, they will be a lot less defensive.
 
#8 - Let other people weigh in on the issue.  Ask if anyone else has thoughts about the topic.

#9 - If the person will not respond to your coaching, feedback and rules, it may be time to let them go. You can't afford to let a pessimist wreck havoc on your team. 

You turn.  What do you do when you have a pessimist on your team?  Share your thoughts, insight and ideas in the comment section below.

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