The healthiest cultures give a voice to people of all levels within an organization. People who feel that their voice matters are more engaged and more productive. There is mounting evidence to support this approach and companies by the hundreds are working diligently to make this model of listening an integral part of their operational strategy. I completely support this dynamic shift in corporate culture…BUT

duct tapeThere is a small group of people who simply don’t want to “play ball” with the rest of the group. They constantly find reasons to dislike anything that is being done. They aren’t simply seeing things differently, there is an abnormal attachment to playing devil’s advocate because they find it cute, think it makes them look more intelligent, or are simply miserable people who aren’t happy until they make others feel as bad.

I know that doesn’t sound like the most positive message of puppies and rainbows, but life is messy and business can be as well. If you don’t know how to deal with this group, you will spend more energy in verbal jousts than doing anything else…and that is bad for business, your culture AND your bottom line. Trying to silence the deafening minority, without stifling the input of the majority is a tricky endeavor indeed. Successful companies must find a way to do it in a way that matches who they are, or want to be, as an organization while still being encouraging to others.

Here are a few tips to help find the gold by silencing this crowd through some metaphorical duct tape.

  • Give them the reins – Ok, not completely. There are some people who just want to go on barking as if they’re the big dog, but when the rubber hits the road they clam up and don’t want to do the added effort. Whatever suggestion they have, as long as it isn’t illegal or unethical, ask them to prove it right and give them some latitude to do so. Also make sure they don’t get to dodge any of their current responsibilities. If you know your people, you will know with whom you can use this approach. Falling on their face may just provide enough humility to quiet the diatribe.
  • Connect it with culture – Find the very thing their suggestions conflict with in the culture and then ask them how their suggestion aligns with the organizational culture in that area. Sometimes this can be used as an effective coaching tool to help educate people who simply can’t see the connection.
  • Ask for a consensus – If you, and nearly everyone else on the team, realizes the suggestion is just divisive for whatever reason, ask them to get a consensus from their colleagues and if they do then you will consider it. If not, then they have to drop it. This option should be used from an informed standpoint. Make sure you know, not think, that their colleagues simply do not share this idea. If they do, you may need to reconsider the issue. It’s still is about listening to your team.
  • Invite them to leave – If someone is consistently displeased with how things are going and seem to always want things another way, then it would seem they are not a good fit for the organization and/or culture. The most kind thing you can do is to give them the freedom to find a culture in which their perspective and ideas are embraced with more excitement. Leadership is still about developing people. Sometimes that development comes in the form of letting them move on to different pastures.

All of these things should be done in private and in a respectful way that honors the individual, no matter how irritated you have become by these things. As much as we would like to have a harmonious atmosphere naturally, sometimes mother nature needs a bit of help. What are your thoughts?