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How Do We Coach a Negative Person?

He was gifted at shooting down ideas, but never created any positive momentum in problem solving.

He may have been the most experienced person in the room, but people had stopped paying attention to him. Whenever he began to speak, everyone else began to look down at their notes and avoid eye contact with him. When he was done speaking, everyone lifted their eyes and were ready to interact again. Why? Because he never uttered a single positive word. His comments usually began with:

● None of you have thought about the last time...

● We can’t do that without...

● Who is going to talk to _____ about this?

● We tried something similar and it didn’t work.

The problem wasn’t the validity of his insights, the problem was he never brought a solution to the table. He was gifted at shooting down ideas, but never created any positive momentum in problem solving. Therefore, the team rarely made any decisions in a timely manner. Worse, even after the decision was made, he felt the need to remind people of the problems he predicted we’d encounter.

As leader of that team, I realized he would be my challenge, despite being the most experienced person in the room. He had the wisdom we needed, due to both his technical knowledge and his length of service. Unfortunately, he was also the bottleneck that prevented any really important progress from taking place. I had to break that bottleneck.

After one particularly frustrating meeting, I pulled Mark to the side and I said, “You know, nobody is listening to you anymore.” He was flabbergasted. He prided himself on his wealth of knowledge and insights. But I just stood there and let that sink in. “Why do you think that, Dave? I’ve been around here longer than you and I know these people respect me.”

“I didn’t say they didn’t respect you. I said they don’t listen to you. I see them look down at the floor every time you speak. When you are done speaking, whatever discussion we are having grinds to a halt. The problem is you never have anything positive to say. Every comment you make focuses on the difficulty of the situation or the personalities involved. Here’s the thing Mark – many times you are right! But that doesn’t matter if nobody is listening.”

He paused for a few seconds and asked, “Then what do you suggest?”

“Try starting with a positive statement before you poke holes in another person’s ideas. Acknowledge their motives and their desire to change things. Then add to their plan instead of blowing it up. Your experience is one of our team’s biggest strengths and it is also one of our biggest weaknesses. We need your help to overcome issues. But we don’t need you to just point out problems. We need your experience to help us formulate solutions to those problems. You can exert a lot of influence on this committee if you begin to recognize the ideas and efforts of others before you bring your concerns and solutions.”

When Mark spoke up at the next meeting, everyone was shocked. They didn’t know what to do. He was upbeat and asked great questions that got the team brainstorming together. When he pointed out some issues, the team asked him for his ideas. When he brought a solution forward, the team took his idea and made it better. For the first time in months, we came to a decision in just one meeting. Mark was enthusiastically behind the decision and the entire dynamic of that committee changed.

This is what we all need to do if we are like Mark:

  1. Acknowledge the motives and desires of someone else’s ideas.

  2. Work hard to understand their thoughts and motives.

  3. Bring up the obstacles the team may face.

  4. Provide or ask for ideas on how to overcome those obstacles.

Coaching a negative person is never easy. Sometimes they don’t even realize the damage they are doing to the team. It is our Duty to help them share their experience in a positive way and make the team better.

Dig Deep Questions:

● When have you seen a negative person blunt the progress of a group?

● What do you think the leader should do with that person?


“Would you follow you?” That is a critical question we all need to ask ourselves if we want to become Leaders of Character. Research has proven that people want to follow character. But where is your character today?

Here is a quick assessment that will take you 5 minutes to figure it out. Nobody will ever see your results but you.

Warning: If you are not going to be honest with yourself this is a worthless assessment.

To take the assessment use the QR code above or go to

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