top of page

Responding to negative comments at work

Chances are, you have been at the receiving end of one (or all) of these three negative comments when approaching someone with an idea at work:

"Whatever I do won't change anything."

"It's not my job."

"We tried it before, and it didn't work."

Sadly, we always have the nay-sayers in our mist, and you are not alone. These negative phrases are used frequently to shut down any attempts to change the status quo at work. Yet statements are usually not final stances but what I consider a black & white or closed-ended conversation. You tell them your idea, they respond with one of the above statements, and the conversation is ended. What if you decide to have an open-ended or grey conversation? Instead of thinking of them as disgruntled people that you should just stay away from, try a different tactic, and see if you can change their minds. Having a grey conversation means you are going to figure out exactly why they are using one of these negative statements. The ILM framework explained in a previous blog lays out the logical process of entering a situation and learning from it to improve your leadership skills. Following the ILM framework, here are three roleplay scripts to show a feasible way this grey conversation can play out.

Roleplay Scenario A:

You: …so I was thinking you can help me promoting this idea.

Nay-sayer: I don't think I'm the right person. Whatever I do won't change a thing here.

You: Really? I thought you were the go-to person for this situation. Why do you feel powerless?

Nay-sayer: I'm not powerless but they make decisions without listening to anyone here. Even if I go tell them your idea is great, they'll just nod their heads to humor me and do nothing.

You: That sounds depressing. What was the idea you pitched to them that was turned down?

Nay-sayer: Ah, it's not important. I just know they don't care or listen.

You: Were you not the one who upgraded the equipment last year? I thought it was your idea…

Nay-sayer: Yes, that was me. But that was an easy change to tell them. They were losing so much money; they needed to do something and had no clue what to do. It was easy to show them the before and after along tying it to dollars.

You: So how would you pitch this idea to make them listen like last year?

Nay-sayer (the turning point from black & white to grey conversation): Well, let me think…explain exactly what they get if they go ahead with your idea….

Roleplay Scenario B:

You: …can you help?

Nay-sayer: It's not my job! I have a lot of things to do already.

You: Oh, my bad, I thought this was up your alley.

Nay-sayer: Well, you thought wrong!

You: Yeah, you know anyone that can help me with this?

Nay-sayer can response as: No, go away. [at this point it's hard to go grey so you are better off leaving; figure out who has an influence on this person and ask them to help you]

Nay-sayer can response as: You should go see …. [no need to go grey if this person ends up being a viable contact]

Nay-sayer can response as: You need someone that has my expertise which doesn't exist because the company retired everyone but me. And I have no time for this...

You: They keep you busy and here I am interrupting you. I'll take my leave and go ask your colleague. They may not have as many years under their belt as you, but they may have time to help me.

Nay-sayer (the turning point from black/white to grey conversation): Don't go there, he's busy too. Tell me exactly what you want to do…

You: Great, I'm thinking I may not need that much of your time on this, but you can tell me once I show you the….

Roleplay Scenario C:

You: …and this is what I thought would help the company. What do you think?

Nay-sayer: we tried that before and it didn't work.

You: Really? Well, we shouldn't be reinventing the wheel, so tell me what was done previously?

Nay-sayer: management thought it was a great idea to... [starts telling you what happened…]

You: So, what do you think makes the whole thing fail?

Nay-sayer: …. [gives you reasons]

You: Well, I see the similarities to this idea but here are the differences…… [explain the differences]

Nay-sayer: I still think it's not going to work.

You: Oh, well... can I use you as my devil-advocate and go through the idea's details so you can

tell me exactly what will not make it work?

Nay-sayer: why would you want me to do that? Isn't this all a waste of time?

You: not really, if you lay out the reasons why it won't work, then we can find ways of avoiding the

barrier and tweak the idea. It'll make the idea better and fail-proof.

Nay-sayer (the turning point from black/white to grey conversation): Well, if you are fine with me putting down your idea, I'm more than happy to help.

These are three scenarios of conversations that can occur. Surely there are a million other scenarios that can arise where these negative statements come up. The important takeaway from this blog is that you don't take the negative statements as finality of your proposition. Instead, you navigate the conversation by digging into "Why?" the person is making that statement and turning the black & white conversation into a grey one. You'll end up collaborating and producing a better idea than the one you started with.


Recent Posts

See All

We make approx. 35,000 decisions/day, so we are creatures of change. Then why do we resist change? Here are three ways to combat resistance.

What happens when you come face-to-face with change? Go with the flow or sit on the sidelines. One of these options makes you a square...

bottom of page