Dear Dan: I Manage a Large Facility that’s very Negative

Dear Dan,

What’s some advice to give a manager who leads a large facility that’s been very negative for many years? There are many complaints and no teamwork.


Dealing with negativity

Dear Dealing,

You’re right to be concerned about negative culture. History shows that the best culture wins.

Culture is simply the way we treat each other.

Negative culture is the result of toxic behaviors.

7 ways to overcome a negative culture:

#1. Avoid bubbly optimism.

Negative people despise frivolity.

Anytime you say, “It’s not that bad,” when someone thinks it’s bad, you seem out of touch. Try saying, “Wow. I see your concern. I wonder what you would like to do about that?”

Turn conversations toward imperfect solutions.

#2. Stop doing things that aren’t working.

What have you done to build the desired culture? Whatever it is, it isn’t working. Stop pouring energy into failed strategies.

#3. Explore simple new strategies. (See below.)

Forget about perfection. Choose small improvements.

#4. Oil squeaky wheels and run.

When a squeaky wheel asks for a meeting, schedule it soon. Make it brief. Focus on the future. Get them out of your office.

You can’t build a positive culture by spending all your time with negative people.

#5. Focus on true believers.

Spend most of your time with people who want to make things better.

When toxic employees complain that you’re playing favorites, thank them for their concern and invite them to join the team.

“Thanks for your feedback on how I’m using my time. I working with Betty to build a positive culture. I’d love to work with you as well. How might you be involved?”

#6. Ask the right questions.

The problem with toxic culture is focusing on problems.

  1. What do we want work to be like?
  2. How would you like to show up?
  3. What does success look like?
  4. How can we make this better?
  5. What do you suggest?
  6. How can I help?
  7. What’s the next step?

#7. Leverage respected employees.

Recruit a few long-term employees who are willing to nudge the culture toward bright. When you hear them complain, ask, “Would you help me improve our culture?” If they say, “Yes,” form a small team of culture advocates.

Meet once a week to choose language and behaviors that reflect a healthy culture.

Establish a secret team of culture builders.

Bonus: Appoint a culture champion. Someone who:

  1. Feels dissatisfaction with the present.
  2. Believes things can be better.
  3. Commits to nudge the ball forward.
  4. More: Move in the Right Direction with a Culture Champion.

6 quick tips for building a positive culture:

  1. Express gratitude everywhere you go.
  2. Honor the right people.
  3. Reward the right things.
  4. Celebrate pockets of light.
  5. Remove the worst offenders.
  6. Show interest in people.

Toxic environments are the result of neglecting culture-building and tolerating toxicity.

I believe small changes will nudge your organization in the direction you’d like to go. It won’t be easy. That’s why it’s important to include others.

Best wishes,


What suggestions do you have for Dealing with Negativity?