How to deal with negative people at work

In The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle goes inside some of the world’s most successful organisations and reveals what makes them tick. In this extract, he explains how to deal with negative people at work.

How to deal with negative people at work

It’s the oldest problem: what should you do about bad apples in your team, those chronically negative, team-sabotaging people who possess a genius for dragging others down?

The most straightforward solution is to simply fire them. Many groups have zero tolerance for bad apples (“No Dickheads” is the way the New Zealand All-Blacks rugby team puts it.) The research is clear: bad apples are a severe drain on productivity, innovation, and cooperation.  But for many groups, firing bad apples may not be a simple option. So the question remains: what do you do?

One potential answer is to develop the skill in what might be called ‘Dickhead Neutralization’. We find a good example of this approach in the research of Will Felps, who studies organizational behaviour at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

Here’s the story: Felps gathered 40 four-person groups to perform a task, then hired an actor named Nick to work inside those groups while portraying three negative archetypes: the Jerk (an aggressive, defiant deviant), the Slacker (a withholder of effort), and the Downer (a depressive Eeyore type). In effect, Felps injected Nick into the various groups the way a biologist might inject a virus into a body: to see how the system responds.

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