Be firm with employee whose negativity affects co-workers

Q: One of my employees is killing morale in our group. “Ron” makes disparaging comments about everything, including his fellow team members. This constant criticism is so discouraging that people talk about quitting just to get away from him.

I have tried to improve Ron’s attitude by regularly praising his job performance. I involve him in decision-making to make him feel more important. To help him see the value of teamwork, I have given him leadership roles. Unfortunately, none of this has made any difference.

The more encouraging I try to be, the more critical and pessimistic Ron becomes. At this point, disciplinary action looks like the only remaining option. Can you suggest any other ideas?

A: Let’s take a moment to review this situation. Ron is so insulting and judgmental that colleagues are now plotting their escape. But instead of firmly directing him to stop, you compliment him, consult him and provide leadership opportunities. Do you realize you are actually rewarding the very behavior that you hope to eliminate?

Based on this approach, you appear to fit the profile of a “therapy manager.” Therapy managers believe that if they are sufficiently caring and sympathetic, defiant employees will respond by becoming pleasant and cooperative. Unfortunately, this kindness is typically interpreted as weakness, and the anticipated transformation never occurs.

To have any hope of changing Ron’s demeanor, you must first modify your own management style. Start by clearly describing his problematic behaviors, then make improvement non-negotiable.

For example: “Ron, we need to have a conversation that I have put off for much too long. While you certainly have some valuable skills, your constant criticism is very discouraging to other team members. I’m going to give you some specific examples, then we will discuss your plan for changing this behavior.”

If Ron makes a sincere commitment to reform, you can help him develop an improvement strategy. But if he responds in his usual negative manner, proceed to formal corrective action.

Q: About 10 days ago, I interviewed for a job that I desperately want. Although the manager was quite encouraging when we talked, I have heard nothing since then. He planned to fill the position quickly, so I’m afraid this silence means I’ve been rejected. Now I’m beginning to lose hope and don’t know what to do.

A: You appear to be suffering from “applicant anxiety syndrome.” One telltale sign of this disorder is the illusion that time is passing extremely slowly. Ten days can feel like an eternity to someone waiting for a job offer, but on the hiring end, that’s not very long at all.

Applicants need to realize that they know nothing about what’s happening inside the organization. Timelines given by interviewers are often optimistic, and delays can occur for many reasons. So just hang in there and try to distract yourself with interesting activities. If you have still heard nothing in a couple of weeks, you may politely inquire about the status of this position.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” Send in questions and get free coaching tips at, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.