When working in a team environment, how do you deal with a consistent dissenter who is vocal about what has not worked in the past? – Federal manager (GS-15) from the Department of Education

It can be hard to inspire a team when you’re faced with dissension from another team member. In fact, their negativity can draw out dissent from others and ultimately affect the team’s overall performance.

First, I suggest you find out if there is any validity to the feedback you’re receiving. While it can be easy to write-off dissension that is delivered at the wrong time, using the wrong words, your teammate may be offering you valuable feedback based on their experience on how things get done in your agency.

Set aside some time for a one-on-one with your dissenter to learn more about their concerns. You’re likely to get beyond the negative zingers to the real heart of the matter in a personal conversation. I suggest that you only listen, rather than respond, during the conversation so you can have time to thoughtfully consider the feedback.

Next, follow up. If there’s validity to the concern, let your teammate know that you agree and you’re taking action to address their concern. If there’s little or no validity, schedule a follow-up conversation to say that you considered the conversation productive. Encourage them to offer feedback more regularly, through one-on-one conversations rather than at a broad team meeting.

Moving forward, think creatively about how you can motivate your team. You might even consider giving the dissenter a job to do to help keep your team focused on the positive. Every group is different. Some respond to humor. Some respond to simple team-building activities. I recently met a federal employee who took it upon herself to print up buttons saying “But We Have Always Done It This Way!” with a big red “X” through the middle. Whatever your strategy, it’s important to keep your team focused on your agency’s goals.

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