Bloodied grey hands reaching upwardsRemember well poisoners? Those dangerous individuals in the workplace with poor attitudes to safety, yet lots of influence over others. They contaminate their environment and infect others around them; they see the worst in a situation; they have a pessimistic outlook; and worst of all they encourage unsafe behaviour by others.

This month I’d like to introduce you to their weaker-minded, less influential friends – the walking dead or workplace zombies.

With a poor attitude but less influence, this lot are just miserable, negative, looking for the easy option and demotivated. They can also suck the life out of your teams so perhaps they have more influence than we give them credit for. Perhaps you recognise these characters among your colleagues or worked with them in the past?

Well poisoners get on well with the walking dead as they provide them with an audience and help to massage their egos, thereby further enhancing their influence. But what a well poisoner really craves is fresh meat in the shape of players (good attitude, not much influence). There’s nothing that a well poisoner likes more than to recruit someone new, dragging them down to their own level and growing their circle of walking dead followers.

Why are people like this in the first place?

Let’s start with the premise that they’re not just naturally bad people – very few people are. Were they like that when they joined the business, in which case, why were they taken on? More likely, they’ve developed into those roles as a result of their environment, their experiences and the attitudes of others around them.

The reasons for their scepticism

Have they had their great ideas ignored? Have they been sidelined and left out of discussions and decision making? Do they find that they never get any feedback? How have they been treated in the past? Do they have effective communication channels open to them? There are many questions that we can ask of sceptics, but first ask this of yourself:

Have you done or said anything that might have helped create their current attitude? How are you perceived by others?

Initiating the process of change

Once we understand their motivation we can begin to deal with them and initiate the process of helping change their attitudes. Well poisoners in particular must be challenged – not always easy due to their influence. Maybe they don’t recognise how they come across to others, they may well see themselves as champions (good attitude, plenty of influence) and don’t recognise that their behaviour gives a different impression.

The most powerful outcome of challenging these people is that if you successfully convert them, they become a valuable asset. When shared with your workforce, their story of transformation is more compelling because it’s legitimate and delivered by someone with real influence. They’re living proof that life’s easier and safer when you believe in what your organisation stands for.

On the other hand, if you can’t convert a zombie or well poisoner then you need to ask if yours is the kind of working environment suitable for someone like this. As the saying goes: if you can’t change the people then change the people!

Team members can also play their part by not giving the well poisoners an audience; challenging the nonsense they talk; and, not following their example. This in turn will help to reduce their influence and isolate them.

I suspect a few well poisoners already spring to mind. Are you ready to challenge their behaviour, or if you already have – what did you do?