How to Keep One Bad Apple From Spoiling Your Job Performance

How to deal with the bad apples that spoil your organization's performance.

By Brent Filson - 12/2007

Here in New England where I live it’s winter and anyone with an orchard has already picked the apples.  Years ago the settlers used to store apples for the winter in barrels, hoping to have enough apples and hard cider to make it through until spring, but when one apple started to rot, it would ruin the whole barrel, and they’d likely go hungry.
People working in teams are the same. One naysayer can ruin the team’s cohesiveness, kill the results you’d expected to get, damage your job performance, and diminish your profits.
What can you do to prevent one bad apple from spoiling the rest?
Here is a holiday-inspired tip: Give the gift of appreciation.
You may be thinking, “the gift of appreciation,” what’s Brent talking about?
You’d be amazed at how underutilized yet effective this simple tool is.
How is appreciation a gift, especially when applied to naysayers?
The word “appreciation” comes from a Latin root meaning “to apprehend the value.” In other words, your appreciation of difficult people must be centered on your genuine understanding of the value they offer you and your organization.
You are not just understanding their point of view. You are actually appreciating it; and you are using that appreciation as a tool to get more results, more results than if the difficult people had not entered your life. Otherwise, your appreciation, at least as far as learning leadership is concerned, is a waste of time.
Here’s a four-step process to make appreciation a results-generator.
(1) Team up. Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to destroy your enemy is make him your friend.” The same holds true with a naysayer.  Right now he/she is a member of the cold water committee, throwing it on you as you try to go forward. But one of the best ways of bringing that person over to your side is to have her play a vital role on an important team.  When you make that person your ardent team player, you’ve “destroyed” a naysayer and gained a valuable ally.
2) Identify. In a face-to-face meeting, get at the precise causes of the difficulties. Try to remove yourself from your emotional entanglements. “Break down” what’s happening the way football coaches break down the plays of opposing teams by studying game films.
For instance, that person may contend you are not listening to what h/she says to you. Have the person describe the exact moment when you were not listening. Where were you? What was being said? Precisely, what gave that person that impression?
Here is a listening process that can help you get more results.
(3) Agree. You and the naysayer must come to an agreement on what are the precise reasons you are having difficulties with one another.
For instance, the person says you don’t listen to what he/she is telling you. Unless and until you come to an agreement that you are indeed not listening, you won’t be able to go to the next, and most important, step.
(4)Transform. Transform the specific items you agree on in Step 3 into a results process, a process that will get you increases in results. Without such a process, the previous steps are useless.
Let’s say you both come to an agreement that you need to be more attentive when others are speaking. Why not develop a “listening process?” Such a process may involve applying “continuers.“ Continuers are taught to doctors, especially overbearing doctors, to be more empathetic with patients. When interacting with patients, the doctors are taught to say, “uh huh” three times when the other person is talking before saying a word. 
Of course, “continuers” are one of many listening processes you can draw on. And clearly, “not listening” is one of many problems one might have with the naysayer you lead.  (An often effective technique to deal with naysayers is to crowd them with silence, letting them come up with solutions to your mutual problems.)
Whatever process you come upon in whatever difficulty you are having with people, that process must achieve specific increases in results—more results than if you had not used the process.
Let’s use the “not listening” example. You may pick out one actionable item from what was being said that can lead to results increases. I worked with a leader who did this.  Several people he led accused him of ignoring their input into the jobs they performed, and consequently those people were trying to undercut his leadership. They all sat down around a conference table and went through this four-step process. They developed a process to actively listen to one another and come to agreement on what was spoken and what was heard.  Then they selected actionable particulars that came out of their communication. They made sure they followed through on implementing those particulars to achieve increases in hard, measured results.

As a learning-leader, you’ll always be dealing with a bad apple. Instead of clashing with them or avoiding them, try appreciating them. When you use this process, you may find that they’re not liabilities but assets.

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Brent Filson