Does one bad apple spoil the whole barrel or can a barrel of good apples support a bruised one?
Updated: Dec 20, 2020
I'm doing some research around competing values frameworks because there are so many variables in workplace engagement that start where stakeholders show up as different personalities. And it got me thinking.
Let's face it, in or outside of business, we are all required to engage and work with all kinds of unique personas. As such, encountering a situation where there is one person whose behavior may negatively impact the experiences of others is most definitely not uncommon. As an example, a co-worker who is loud and inappropriate interrupts the productivity and peaceful work-habitation of everyone else in the setting. A disruptive officemate can be the antecedent to new rules being imposed on the whole office or even the whole company affecting their colleagues' professional lives to the point of them hating their jobs. A team member who is pessimistic or negative and critical can credibly destroy the morale of everyone else on the team. In general, "one bad apple" serves as a pretty intense distraction from many aspects of our work that give it the meaning that keeps us engaged and committed. Those that create disruption, foster chaos, toxicity, and act as if they are
above reproach even when, in doing so, they create an even worse situation for themselves are often crying out for help. Identified by a motivated thought leader, that "bad apple's" bruises might be attributable to easily addressed issues and shifted. But in the case where they have yet to be addressed, how do you, as a leader and/or coworker, put stop-gaps in place that protect yourself and your team from having their experience soured by the negativity.
Often, as people being people (leaders or otherwise), our first impulse upon coming head-to-head with a bad apple is to express our anger and frustration. A sort of simple mirroring, that btw, doesn't help in the long run. It's important to note that bad apples only have the power to turn other lives sour if we act the victim and let them. When dealing with negative people, we can choose not to respond to their behavior and allow our positive behavior be an example Exercising patience and choosing not to respond to their words or actions significantly limits the effect they are able to have on the environment. Thought leaders, as noted, can encourage a bad apple to change their behavior through supportive techniques and holding a space for honest, authentic discussion and mediation. Often underlying a bad apple's mood is a feeling of injustice that causes sadness or anger. If it seems in a work environment your bad apple is simply hoping to be noticed or heard, they may come to realize that receiving positive attention is much more satisfying than making a negative impression. Sometimes even the most basic of responses vs. reactions is the answer to empowering others to recognize the bad apple's experience and not to go to the dark side with them.
Start with little actions. Be a role model. Above and beyond how one person (leader or otherwise) deals with the bad apple, a sense of thriving buffers incivility’s toxic effects. If everyone on the team focuses on cultivating an internal sense of well-being, feeling energized, alive and growing, a healthier, more resilient and happier workplace evolves. When people feel even an inkling of thriving, it buffers them from distractions, stress and negativity. This is the point, as one bad apple might wreck a barrel, a barrel of good apples will overwhelmingly win out over one bruised one.