In our work, we talk about two different types of leadership dispositions: the Filler and the Spiller. A Filler Leader is the type of leader who encourages others, builds up their confidence, and works hard to role model what they want from those they lead. A Spiller Leader, on the other hand, is the type of leader that tears other people down, breaks down their confidence, and discourages others through their language and behavior.
None of us are perfect. Sometimes we are a Filler and sometimes we are a Spiller. However, some people seem to revel in their Spiller status. These are the people who point out the negative not to be constructive and help people grow but rather to tear people down.
Chronic Spillers are draining to deal with on a daily basis, so how do you cope with them?
Don’t Feed the Negative – While you might want to commiserate with your colleagues about how awful the Chronic Spiller is, it won’t make anything better in the long run. Gossiping like this could make the situation even worse. If for example the Chronic Spillers learns he is the office gossip, he may become an even bigger discourager in retaliation.
Be Clear about Why You are Going to Them – If you need to meet with or work with the Chronic Spiller, prepare yourself ahead of time. Go to your meeting with her with specific objectives, know the issues you need her feedback on, and tell her ahead of time. Should she start to steer the conversation off topic with discouraging statements about other people or other projects, interject that you really need to cover specific items and bring her focus back to the matter at hand.
Find the Best Way to Communicate with Them – It may be that your Chronic Spiller doesn’t spill ask much when they use email or the telephone to communicate. Observe their communication style in different settings and find the best way to communicate productively with them – then use that method as often as possible.
Beat Them to the Punch – If your Chronic Spiller frequently interrupts team meetings with their discouraging statements, give them the official job of Meeting Skeptic. Talk to them before the meeting and acknowledge that they are good at pointing out issues with ideas. Tell them you’ve added a special time slot on the agenda for bringing up issues and you want them to be the Official Skeptic who leads that agenda segment. Giving them a focus might turn their discouraging statements into more insightful troubleshooting feedback.
Remember, dealing with Chronic Spillers is a great time to build your Tell Courage. Consider if it’s appropriate to speak with your Chronic Spiller one-on-one about your concerns. It will be a challenging conversation, and you will need to use your best listening and communication skills. Nonetheless, it might make a difference and be worth the investment of time.
Photo Credit: David Goehring