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The skies are grey around our way. And with everything else happening in the world, it can feel like a challenge to keep a positive attitude at work when team members are preoccupied or just don’t want to work on your project.

Someone got in touch recently with that exact point, and asked: “How can you maintain a positive, cheerful attitude when working with team members or stakeholders who cast doubt on the project?”

So here are some things I would do when you’re working with people whose attitudes should be on the project risk register .

Listen to their woes

What are they really bothered about? Is it
general malaise? Or do they have a point?

Sometimes even non-specific moaning can be
rooted in genuine concern – perhaps they don’t know themselves what the problem

Unpick the problem

You might need to do this away from them. There’s something going on, you just can’t put your finger on it yet.

Enlist an impartial colleague and share your concerns with them. Can they help you see what the issue is?

Is it just them?

They could be incredibly insightful and the first to notice a growing problem. But it’s more likely that if there is a problem, you’ll be picking it up from several sources.

If there’s grumbling from a few of the team (or more) then you need to act.

Choose your next steps

So what do you do? I would confront them
with respectful challenge. “I can sense/have heard/understand that you have
concerns about the project/what we are working on. Can you tell me more about
what’s driving that please? I’d like to help.”

I would do this on a one-to-one basis. When I tried to confront a group who all had similar grievances, I was intimidated and a bit battered by the experience.

Then a few colleagues who hadn’t been able to attend the meeting accused me of not being interested in their issues and leaving them out…. It felt like I couldn’t win.

I would also start with the lowest level of colleague on the hierarchy and work your way up.

Then you are going into meetings with senior colleagues with a bit more information.

Take action

You’ve uncovered one of two things:

  • There’s an issue related to the project and now you can deal with it.
  • Your colleague has a non-work related issue and their attitude is nothing to do with your project work.

Be supportive to your colleague – who knows
what they might be going through outside of work that makes them bring a negative
attitude to work.

However, ultimately, if their behaviour is
affecting the rest of the team and creating an unpleasant atmosphere, you are
going to have to deal with it, which means you need evidence and support from
HR and their line manager.

Tread carefully.

No one comes to work to be deliberately miserable.

No one comes to work to be deliberately miserable.
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Keep smiling

Try to stay positive yourself. Take breaks. Keep your work in perspective. Hang out with colleagues who have the same outlook as you. Find someone to share your problems with.

Do things that make you happy on the same day as having those difficult conversations. Spread your challenging tasks across the week.

Bring cakes.

You’re in control of your own attitude, so own it.

Further Resources

How to Manage a Team Member with a Negative Attitude : even more resources here to help.

Shortcuts to Success: Project Management in the Real World: my book has a section on managing project teams.

Results Without Authority by Tom Kendrick: helpful suggestions for dealing with people when you don’t have line management responsibility for them.

The Accidental Leader by Harvey Robbins: includes tips on meeting a team for the first time and setting expectations for performance.

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