Discussion Thread

Negative Emotions on Your Project Team

  • 1.  Negative Emotions on Your Project Team

    Posted 06-24-2019 11:01 AM
    An important underlying quality of working on a project team is the sense of morale, whether it is good or bad and how strong that sense is. It's generally believed that having a positive morale creates higher productivity within the group and leads to wholesome working relationships rooted in respect for one's self and one another. Often times negative emotions arise within a team (from either a superior, inferior, or colleague). The degree to which these negative emotions continue to fester is largely dependent on how they are managed by the individuals who have to work with the negative team member.

    How does one effectively manage negative emotions from a member of a project team?

    ------------------------------
    Dave Ureña, P.E.
    Banneker, LLC
    3104 N. Armenia Ave
    Suite 2
    Tampa, FL 33607
    813.415.7872
    dave@...
    ------------------------------


  • 2.  RE: Negative Emotions on Your Project Team

    Posted 06-25-2019 08:34 AM
    In construction, there is no time to waste on negativity.  The job needs to get done and it needs to get done safely.  Quite simply, the source of the negativity needs to be removed from the team.  Any attitude that puts someone at risk or impacts the ability of others to perform their duties is toxic.

    That said, we all have bad days.  Make the team member know that attitude is not tolerated on site.  Send them home early if needed and allow them to get rest and come back the next day with the intent to do better.  Young professionals may need time to develop professional maturity... this is done through example and giving them level appropriate work.

    There are several parties on site that can be at odds at any given time.  Everyone needs to remember that the goal is the same for all, to complete the job safely and produce the best product for the owner. Your ability to work as a team will have an impact on who is willing to work with you in the future.

    ------------------------------
    Chad Morrison P.E.,M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI
    (401)231-4870 EXT 2207
    ------------------------------



  • 3.  RE: Negative Emotions on Your Project Team

    Posted 06-25-2019 01:15 PM
    Very interesting perspective, Chad. Thanks for your input.

    Blowing off steam in private is always the best practice so sending a negative person home is ideal for fieldwork circumstances. Very rarely would an officemate be sent home to deal with negative emotions but temporary separation from the workplace would make a big difference in a short amount of time.


    ------------------------------
    Dave Ureña, P.E.
    Banneker, LLC
    3104 N. Armenia Ave
    Suite 2
    Tampa, FL 33607
    813.415.7872
    dave@...
    ------------------------------



  • 4.  RE: Negative Emotions on Your Project Team

    Posted 07-28-2019 09:21 AM
    Chad points to a difference between design and construction, where in construction our three goals are quality, safety, and profitability. As a heavy lift engineer (Rigging Engineer), there were basically two different entities at work. Firstly, was mine where I, as both engineer and lift project manager, would get everything organized and designed the engineered lift plan with input, as needed, from the other group, including the lifting superintendent (now the"Lift Director") and, if needed, crane operators and truck drivers. At some point, I would hand over the preliminary lift plan to the superintendent and we would review the plan together. In some cases, I would go over the plan with the entire crew prior to the lift, if there were specific issues that that they needed additional information on.

    Although I could not be present at all lifts, it was important that I be there for the larger and more difficult lifts- to make sure the procedure was adhered to, deal with the client, and assist in any matter on site such as an unexpected change in the work conditions. During the lift, any discord, negativity, or different opinions, had been eliminated during the process and all would act as a unified team.

    ------------------------------
    James Worrell
    Mostly Retired
    PE, RLS (retired)
    Raleigh NC
    [jimworrell@...]
    ------------------------------



  • 5.  RE: Negative Emotions on Your Project Team

    Posted 08-06-2019 12:42 PM
    "Chad points to a difference between design and construction, where in construction our three goals are quality, safety, and profitability."
    There is one, and only one definition for quality, regardless of the phase of work under discussion.

    Quality is conformance to requirements.
    The most commonly abstracted project requirements are scope, schedule and budget,
    as specifically documented in your Project Contract.

    Requirements, once known, frame the work your people will do.

    Now profitability is what money remains after your project is accepted by your client and regulatory agencies.

    Cheers,
    Bill


    ------------------------------
    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880
    ------------------------------



  • 6.  RE: Negative Emotions on Your Project Team

    Posted 06-26-2019 12:24 PM
    David,

    This is such an important topic. I believe the key is to be patient and respectful regardless of what is coming your way. Always transmit serenity and understanding in your answers. If you come back with a defensive attitude that will only fuel more the other person. One concept I learned in the past is that we behave and act similar to the closest five people in our lives. If at the workplace we ensure we are bringing positive energy regardless of how other people are acting, we will be a step closer to change their attitude.

    Communication, patience, and love for one another is the key to approaching challenging situations. No gain comes from fighting back.

    ------------------------------
    Luis Duque EIT,A.M.ASCE
    Structural Engineer
    Broomfield CO
    luis@...
    ------------------------------



  • 7.  RE: Negative Emotions on Your Project Team

    Posted 06-27-2019 09:56 AM
    Good insight, Luis. Also, good on you for mentioning our inner circle as a map for how we're likely to behave. Thanks a lot for your valuable input!

    ------------------------------
    Dave Ureña, P.E.
    Banneker, LLC
    3104 N. Armenia Ave
    Suite 2
    Tampa, FL 33607
    813.415.7872
    dave@...
    ------------------------------



  • 8.  RE: Negative Emotions on Your Project Team

    Posted 06-27-2019 10:29 AM
    I'm going to offer a different take on what has been said so far, stemming from 15 years working as a structural engineer, project management experience, and now having my own firm. It's safe to say I've been involved in conflict on all sides of this discussion.

    If you are a manager: If you are a manager of the person with negative emotions, although I can understand the sentiment behind "sending the person home", it must be recognized for what it is: a conflict-avoidance tactic that will likely make the problem worse.  If you are a manager, conflict resolution is part of your job, and creating a positive environment for your team is also part of your job. If you send that person home, the message you are sending to the rest of your team is "I don't know how to deal with this and conflict makes me uncomfortable, so make sure you hide all negative emotions and conflict from me and allow your true feelings to fester into resentment or worse."  You have just created an environment where people do not feel safe to share their feelings, which means your team can't build the trust necessary to have a successful project. See my "for all" paragraph to see what to do/say instead.

    You might be thinking, "but I don't have time to deal with conflict." If you don't have time for this,  to be blunt you have no business being a manager. As a manager, your primary responsibility is empowering your team, and that is not possible if the team does not trust each other, and you, to resolve conflict in a healthy way.

    If you are dealing with negative emotions from a superior or colleague: The important thing to remember is that the negative emotion is their own issue to deal with, not yours. Don't take that negative emotion personally, there is very likely something going on there that is causing it that has absolutely nothing to do with you. How do you know that this person didn't just have a death in the family that they have not shared? You don't, so it behooves you to treat them with empathy as opposed to judgment.  I've had success here redirecting the conversation in the moment by calmly saying: "Thank you for sharing how you really feel about this, I can see this is really frustrating for you . [Then state your understanding of how they feel and why, using their own words.] Can you share some ideas on how we can find a solution that is a win-win for all of us ?" From a scientific standpoint, when you are being "emotional", the logical part of your brain does not function. Asking a question like that to cause the logical part to kick by can potentially instantly defuse the situation.

    For all: Most of the time, especially if this person normally does not normally share negative emotions,  there is an underlying reason behind it. Pull that person aside and say "It seems like you are really frustrated or upset with what is going on, tell me about how you are feeling, and what I can do to help." And then, listen. Listen first to completely understand the problem and where it is coming from, and then ask that person what THEY think they can do to resolve the situation in a win-win manner for all involved. DO NOT offer advice until you've listened. As engineers, we are so often tempted to immediately solve the problem instead of staying curious about it until we fully understand. Don't do that. Conflict is much much harder to resolve when team members don't trust each other and feel no one is listening to them.

    Exception to all the above: The exception to the above is if this is a toxic team member who routinely drags down morale. If I was managing such a person, I would first talk to this person about it (and document it), and work with them to figure out why it is happening and how we can improve the situation. If it doesn't improve, they'd get a second meeting and (also documented) warning that if they did not improve we'd need to let them go. Understand that you aren't doing your team, or that individual, any favors by not proactively addressing negativity and toxicity.  On a related note, if you're being managed by a serially negative person, I'd find a new job or manager ASAP. You're not going to be able to change them, and they'll drag your entire career down if you stay too long because you'll start to adopt that negative mindset yourself.

    ------------------------------
    Stephanie Slocum P.E.,M.ASCE
    Founder
    Engineers Rising LLC
    www.engineersrising.com
    ------------------------------



  • 9.  RE: Negative Emotions on Your Project Team

    Posted 07-01-2019 02:40 PM
    Along the lines of what Stephanie said, I'd like to add about resolving the conflict.  In life, the overwhelming majority of people seek to avoid conflict.  That doesn't mean they avoid problems, though. We frequently avoid doing things, bad or good, that will draw about conflict.  But, the reality is that avoiding conflict often allows the misgiving (trust, anger, fear, etc.) to fester and grow.  And so it is important to remember that conflict, can be a good thing, provided it's a means to a better end.

    So while it may be uncomfortable to talk to someone about an issue, and it's going to cause conflict, it's an important step to resolving the issue.  We like to think the problem will just dissipate, and while it may, it could cause a lot of harm in the mean time.  The important thing is to have these attributes for these conversations:
    1. Private - Don't email them and their/your boss or other co-workers.  The point is not to attack or embarrass them, you're working together to improve their attitude.  If the transgression is very serious, another staff member from HR may need to be present, but typically that's not necessary.
    2. In Person - This isn't always possible, and while it's the most uncomfortable it is always the most effective.  People are too comfortable being passive aggressive in emails and they dictate no tone.  You mean type it with loving concern for a person and they read it as a lecture from an angry parent.  If you cannot meet in person, try a phone call or Skype, but avoid email or text at all costs.
    3. Cool Down - Typically the need to address it comes after some initial anger outburst has happened.  If this is the case give them some time to compose and collect themselves.  At least 15 minutes, but probably not more than a day.
    4. Listen - Don't lecture them.  You need to explain what the issue is so there isn't confusion, but hopefully this conversation ends up being more listening than talking.  Learn why they're frustrated, why it happened, etc.  Convey to them that you care about them and want to know what the problem is so you can help.  They may be reluctant to share, after all, the problem may be you and if you are their supervisor, they may not be comfortable sharing.  Encourage them to share, and especially if it is you, do not get angry.  Especially if you are.  If you're managing people need to be comfortable talking to you.
    5. Respectful - This is the most import one that really underpins the others.  Be respectful.  As Stephanie said, you don't know what underlaying factors may have lead to negativity.  Ideally personal life wouldn't affect work life, but we're not robots.  If this is a sub-ordinate, treat them as an equal. Level with them and explain the issue, but don't pile it on.


    Of course that's all well and good for dealing with probelms with negative people, but that's treating the symptoms.  To cure the disease you need to promote a safe, comfortable work environment.  As others have posited, positive reinforcement goes a long way.  Make a point to commend peoples hard work, privately and publicly.  Encourage friendly banter.  The happier your team is the better the work will be.  Part of getting and maintaining this harmony, likely will mean getting into conflict to address issues or problem behavior.  Don't be afraid to do that!  Just be sure to do so using the 5 tactics above, to work through the conflict.

    ------------------------------
    James Smith P.E.,M.ASCE
    Design Engineer
    Grand Rapids MI
    ------------------------------



  • 10.  RE: Negative Emotions on Your Project Team

    Posted 07-15-2019 02:00 PM

    Talk about playing with a"Marked Deck!"

    Our minds have been programmed to accept the meaning of words without challenge for far too long. We hear these 'trigger words' and just fall right in line.

     "Like what" you ask?

    I will limit my examples to just a few.

     Q1.What makes an opinion or emotion "Negative?" versus"Positive?"

    In some cases, it's as simple as not agreeing with the majority, or with "You."

     Q2. "It's generally believed. . . "Really? By whom? HDYK?

     Q3."The degree to which these negative emotions continue to fester…"

    Well, is it possible they continue because in this case the majority of those who go along to get along are simply dead-nuts wrong?

    Suggestion:

    Lose emotionally charged descriptors like good, bad, positive, and negative. They do nothing to add value to the reasoned arguments of informed professionals.



    ------------------------------
    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880
    ------------------------------



  • 11.  RE: Negative Emotions on Your Project Team

    Posted 07-15-2019 04:13 PM
    Mr. Hayden makes a great point. Rereading my original post, I want to clarify as follows:

    There aren't any good or bad emotions, it's how you express them to those around you that is negative or positive.

    If I'm angry,  I have a choice in how I express that anger to those around me. I can express the emotion negatively by lashing out. Alternately, I can be self-aware enough to recognize that I'm angry, ask myself why that is (which is usually different from the specific event that "triggered" the feeling), and express it positively, in a way that is both respectful and moves the group towards a solution.

    My original response (and I think the intent of most of the responders here) is related to the expression  of emotions in a negative way, which is different from feeling the emotions (at least in a self-aware individual). There are plenty of ways to express anger, sadness, frustration, etc., in a positive and constructive way. My original post did not mean to imply that those emotions, in and of themselves, are negative.

    ------------------------------
    Stephanie Slocum P.E.,M.ASCE
    Founder
    Engineers Rising LLC
    ------------------------------



  • 12.  RE: Negative Emotions on Your Project Team

    Posted 08-06-2019 06:02 PM
    "An important underlying quality of working on a project team is the sense of morale, whether it is good or bad and how strong that sense is. "

    David frames his question within the context "Working on a project team." Assigning technical people to a group that are intended to collaborate, communicate, and cooperate on a project does not, in and of itself make them a "Project Team."  A somewhat dated but familiar sequence of the individual's behaviors assigned to transform from individual experts into an expert team have been labelled:
    FORMING; STORMING; NORMING; and PERFORMING. And each does NOT happen by accident.

    Depending where the groups' level of team transformation is at the time David's example kicks in, suggests what type of action(s) might be most useful for the good of all.
    Cheers,
    Bill


    ------------------------------
    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880
    ------------------------------



  • 13.  RE: Negative Emotions on Your Project Team

    Posted 08-07-2019 01:16 PM
    This is such a great topic!  Team trust and morale isn't just important, as David points out, it can also make or break a project's success. I completely agree with @Stephanie Slocum's input here and will add something I've learned as a project manager.  The most important person anyone can track the positive/negative contributions to the team's level of trust and moods is the self.

    I'm a believer that negativity spreads and people generally don't want to be the source of that or contribute to that type of mood on a team.  Even in an unfortunate situation of  being on a team of negative thinkers/behaviors (just to confirm, we know what we're talking about here and may even be guilty ourselves - they can complain, blame, impose on items outside their role, be defensive, etc.)​, being an island of positivity can help turn it around.  Some tips from experience:
    1. Gratitude (my #1): There's research on this (sorry for not citing) that practicing gratitude regularly can reshape your mind into thinking positively.  This is also a very effective tool for resiliency when things wrong (trauma or very bad day, etc.) and it's too late to start this when that happens. You have to do it often - I've read 4 times a day - and you can be bulletproof.  Set a reminder on your phone to be grateful for something, anything (i.e. the weather, a small win, being able-bodied, being smart enough to be able to call yourself an engineer, the flavor of your favorite chapstick, literally anything!)and it works over time. It's not important what you express gratitude for or if it's silently or out loud. It's just important that you do it regularly and often. 
    2. Celebrate: Related to above, but it's easy as engineers to focus on what is going wrong or what needs to be solved.  it's also easy for anyone to not stop to acknowledge those resolutions when you're done. For me, it's stopping to thank the team or call out an MVP on a difficult task - for bigger wins, it can be a goofy dance - whatever makes you feel good.
    3. Listen: This one is less about self, but is a check on the self to make sure you're not doing all the talking.  If someone else is feeling down, the best way to tackle that is to try to understand why. Going back to Stephanie's input for managers, sometimes just listening (and reflecting what you're hearing) can go a long way. If you want to try to solve it (don't take this on if you don't have to or if impacts you too much), that's a step after listening.
    4. Accept: If you're receiving negative feedback, the project isn't going your way, or that important client (or negative team member) isn't respecting your expertise, accept it and move on.  You don't have to change them or their view of you.  Regarding negative feedback (we all get it, even if it's from the pesky negative self-talk), ignore it and especially don't let it linger in the mindless chatter in your head.  You can accept someone's view as their views, and not incorporate it or change on your end.  I think sometimes if we think we're right about something, especially if it's important to us. we want to make sure others get it right too, especially if they got it wrong.  If there's disagreement and that's been expressed clearly, move on if a decision doesn't go your way.  It's ok not to agree with everyone all the time.
    5. Honesty: For me, so long as the above is being followed most the time and I'm not being the source of negativity or bringing the team down, I try to tell people straight. Diplomacy doesn't mean agreeing with others and you can compromise while expressing your honest opinion.  People also value being able to rely on you for your honest truth, always.

    All this to say this is about managing your own emotions.  If any of this sounds cheesy or like painting on a smile, that's not my intent.  If you've got your self in order, that shows leadership and can impact a project team positively.

    ------------------------------
    Richard Fernandez P.E.,M.ASCE
    Project Manager
    Seattle Public Utilities
    Seattle WA
    ------------------------------