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Negative Behaviours - 23 November 2010

One of the most memorable characters from the book, Winnie the Pooh, is the donkey, Eeyore, whose coat is as grey as his personality. In one chapter, his typical sadness is displayed when he says: “Good morning, Pooh Bear. If it is a good morning. Which I doubt.” You might have an Eeyore or two within your team. Always negative, nothing can ever be done to cheer them up.

Surprisingly, a study by the University of New South Wales discovered these Eeyores can be a positive influence.

Using a range of experiments, the researchers found that Eeyores communicate better, make fewer mistakes, think more clearly, are better at decision-making, and are less gullible. This is because grumpy people have enhanced “information-processing strategies”, which means they’re able to engage in critical thinking more effectively than joyful people.

These information-processing strategies were evident in a similar study conducted by the same psychology professors, one where they wanted to explore why sunny days make us happy and rainy days make us gloomy. The answer: sunny days make us forgetful, and so we’re less likely to be miserable when our worries are out of mind.

The basis of these information-processing strategies is that negative people pay more attention to their surroundings.

Likewise, in the workplace, even though negative employees can be a real drag, they don’t have to be such a bad thing. The greater attention they pay to their workplace surroundings can be beneficial if you’re able to harness what they have to offer. Here’s how.

  • Listen: Provide them with opportunities to vent. They may have worthy ideas.
  • Consult: Give them problems to solve. Their analytical minds prefer it.
  • Ask: Seek their opinion. They might have picked up on stuff you’ve missed.
  • Share: Be open and honest. The absence of information creates panic.
  • Accept: Don’t try to change them. Their good aspects might outweigh the bad.

When their negativity is having a detrimental effect on others within the team, treat it as a performance issue on par with metrics like productivity, sales, and quality. But occasionally, it's healthy to have a dose of an Eeyore's perspective.

 

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