Dealing with Mr. Negative

We’ve all been to creativity sessions.  Depending on your personality and your history, you either love them or hate them. I personally love creativity sessions.  I love the interactivity, the participation.  However I was recently at one session where there was one participant, let’s call him “Mr Negative”, constantly shot down every idea, every suggestion.  It was really frustrating.  I used every trick in my arsenal to try and get him to be more positive and in the end had to resort to “OK, I want everyone to come up with three possible benefits if we decide to use this approach.”  Subtle, no, but it got the point across, and from that point onward, the session improved.

Negativity has it’s place.  We need to be realistic and to look at the possible downsides to potential ideas, but it has to come at the right moment.  It definitely has no place when you are just starting a creativity session and are looking for a fresh approach and new ideas.  In the wrong place, negativity just kills creativity.

killing creativity

Personally, when dealing with negativity in the workplace, I prefer to use questions and listen.  Show the negative person respect, and then try to get them to re-frame their negative response in a more positive light.  I find positive aspects amongst the negativity.  I find positive solutions for the issues raised.  In creativity sessions, I have a rule that says no idea is a bad idea and no negativity until the appropriate time.  However it is a difficult topic, so I thought I would share with you 5 quick tips that help me:

  1. Avoid personalising.  Don’t take it personally, don’t give into an emotional response, regardless of the provocation.  Do not be defensive.
  2. Use “I” messages.  Instead of saying “I can’t believe you said that!”, say “I find it difficult when I hear negative feedback.”
  3. Remain professional.  Speak calmly.  Use the UAR process: Understand, listen and provide feedback in a constructive manner.  Apologise blamelessly.  Resolve the issue by specifying actions
  4. Confront the negativity.  You cannot just leave it be.  You need to address it and address it quickly
  5. Turn things around.  Negative people are also skilled at using sarcasm to destroy ideas.  When faced with sarcasm, turn it around.  If you are faced with “That is just what we need, more paperwork.” reply, “Yes, that is exactly what we need.  paperwork that is actually useful, instead of what we currently have.  Perhaps the current paperwork is the problem.  When someone lists lots of reasons why something cannot be done, ask them for positive suggestions on what could be done instead.  Be bold and be assertive!


I’d be interested in hearing how you deal with nay-sayers.  What do you hear that just kills creativity and how do you deal with it?

Alesandra Blakeston

7 thoughts on “Dealing with Mr. Negative

  1. I learned early on to start sessions with ‘ground rules” – and state them firmly. If you want Build on ideas – give an example in the opening. And, don’t be afraid to interrupt Negative — “Wait, what’s the ground rule?” This can be done lightly. I find that this approach usually works. And, you actually help the person develop a new listening skill. Helping the person to see and hear more openly is the reward for your patience.

    In some hard core cases – particularly if Mr or Ms Negative is poisoning the group – directly confronting the individual can be the cure. “Okay Ms so far I’ve heard an array of what doesn’t work – I challenge you now to ….” And, depending on the personalities in your group, you can also let the group handle the negative person. Sometimes you find that you must ‘rescue’ M Negative from attack and redirect group!

  2. Key points: remain professional and don’t take – or make – it personal. A good write Alesandra!

  3. When someone does not want to get onboard we just move ahead and try to include them. Sometimes they reluctantly move with us and sometimes they sulk. But we move forward anyway.

  4. It’s especially difficult to deal with negativity when you’re in a session that’s supposed to get some kind of result – you can’t afford to spend a whole lot of time finding out what’s causing the negativity. I find it safest to assume there may be a good reason for a person to be negative. That way it’s easier to be respectful.

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