What do overly empathetic leaders and drug dealers have in common?

In a recent presentation I was giving, we were discussing negativity and the drain it can have on people’s productivity – not just for the negative person but for anyone who happens to be around them.

Let’s face it, when we only have a certain amount of mental energy each day – listening to someone be negative can drain a lot of that mental energy which could be put to better use.

So we were discussing how to deal with negative people and that it’s best to choose your friends wisely. And in the workplace, we can’t always choose who we work with but we can choose our reaction to other people’s negativity especially when the negative person is someone we are leading.

As part of this discussion we had someone comment that surely this doesn’t work in real life and surely we need to listen to people and that we need to show empathy for what they are going through and to help them to feel validated for their feelings. And that this approach is overly harsh.

Firstly, yes we should absolutely listen to people – listening to people is important to get to the root of the issue and often we learn from that. And let’s face it, things aren’t always going to go accordingly to plan at work so it’s important that people vent (in the right way) at the time. Otherwise research shows that people are likely to get angry at a more inappropriate time. But once the venting is over, it’s time to get constructive!

But it’s how long you listen to people being negative is the issue…

The overly empathetic leaders who basically enable people to whine about the same thing over and over again are not doing any long-term favours for the person or the business. It certainly doesn’t help solve the issue or increase productivity. In fact it just drains the energy of everyone around them.

Think of it like drug dealers who give drugs to addicts… it might make the addict feel better in the short term but the dealer isn’t really adding any long-term value to the person.

Being negative can be a little like a drug sometimes. It takes good leadership skills to strike a balance between listening to the issue and then coaching people to do something about it.

If you would like further help on striking that balance, please contact us.


If you’d like to find out more, join the conversation in our next open workshop.