Mark Twain famously said, “Don’t walk away from negative people … run!” But while that may be reasonable advice for our personal lives, it’s often not possible at work, especially for leaders.

Work teams will always include negative people — it’s just a fact. But according to author and speaker Skip Prichard, the question for leaders is, will you manage those situations positively or negatively?

Many times, for those with an overwhelmingly negative attitude, the situation becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Consider the team that has a general attitude of “This is impossible. There’s no way we can get this done. We’ve been set up for failure.”

What happens? They tend to fail more often.

But the same can be said for how leaders treat people they perceive as being negative. To improve outcomes, we have to deal with them positively.

Here’s how:

  1. Differentiate and navigate between negativity and criticism. While the two can overlap, there are all kinds of legitimate reasons to be critical in business situations. We need people who can spot roadblocks ahead of time. But we also need to know how and when to share those comments. So, before lumping someone in with the “bad attitude” crowd, make sure that they’re not being helpfully critical, but maybe just at the wrong time or in the wrong way.
  2. Have boundaries for yourself and your teams. Experts point out that we need to have healthy boundaries that allow us to manage relationships with negative people. Have you created those boundaries for yourself and your team? Could this type of thinking be included in your organization’s guidelines? For example, consider including boundary-setting statements like “Assume positive intent.”
  3. Dig deeper. Author and speaker Jim Rohn once said, “Turn frustration into fascination.” This could actually be a goal for leaders. Don’t write someone off because their negativity makes them harder to be around. Find out what’s up. Get “fascinated” about their situation. A small change in their work-life balance, a shift of tasks or timing, the chance for a stretch assignment — even a simple word of praise — can improve the situation. Empower yourself, as a leader, to help turn someone’s attitude around.