Coworker from Hell # 15: The Idea Trasher


That’s not the way we do things”

“Who came up with this lame idea?”

“There are a lot of problems with this…”

Idea Trashers. Team members from Hell. They rarely have positive things to contribute, preferring instead to tell you why things are Bad Ideas, or why they won’t work. And even when it’s not a direct comment such as the ones above, the sarcasm in their tone of voice can send the same message (“Oh yeah, the boss is just going to loooove this one…”).

Oddly enough, Idea Trashers don’t perceive themselves as ‘negative people’. They’ll tell you instead that they’re ‘logical’, ‘rational’ or ‘critical thinkers’. They like to think of themselves as the voice of reason piercing through the mediocrity surrounding them. For some, their negative behavior is part of their self-esteem defense mechanism. They are like the bully, who puts other people down to make himself feel superior. By positioning themselves in the judgment seat, they assume a sort of power position over the people they work with. Others have an intense fear of failure, and are just trying to avoid risk at all costs. One thing is certain – Idea Trashers are experts in throwing cold water on hot ideas.

There are many good ways for dealing with Idea Trashers. Perhaps the best and simplest approach is with a series of questions that force them to clarify themselves, and contribute something positive. For example:

  • Is the whole idea bad or just part of it?
  • How do we fix the part that needs improvement?
  • In what ways do the risks you’ve identified outweigh the benefits?
  • Is there a better idea we should be considering?

If they continue to resist making positive contributions, you can always try a little gentle sarcasm, with a question like, “So, basically we should stop trying to come up with new ideas altogether? Is that what you’re getting at?” Idea Trashers greatly dislike being bumped out of the judgment seat.

One important note: Being ‘judgmental’ is not always a bad quality. In fact, the ability to evaluate things and people is quite necessary for the smooth functioning of a team. In our teambuilding programs, people discover that they fall into one (or two) of five general categories: Creators, Planners, Supervisors, Doers and Judges. Creators come up with original ideas, Planners identify the process for turning creative thought into reality, Supervisors organize and pull things together, Doers get things done. Judges evaluate performance and potential. Each of these roles is essential to a high performing team.

The difference between a Judge and an Idea Trasher is that the Idea Trasher can’t differentiate between critical thinking and just being critical.


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