Cynicism and Its Impact


During our leadership work, ILA spends a significant amount of time discussing cynicism and its negative impact on people, departments and organizations. Very rarely do we experience cynicism in our workshops or our consulting engagements. Recently, we had the “distinct pleasure” of engaging a cynic in a three day Leadership Challenge workshop. And it was everything that you have shared with us about cynics – negative, roadblock to success, wasted energy put forth in dealing with him, a downer, etc.

The participants initially dealt with the cynic like most work groups – ignored him or praised his comments. One person admitted, “Let’s try to bring him into the conversation by agreeing with him.” As the workshop progressed, each participant realized how much energy was being wasted with this strategy. Continual disagreements, bickering and caustic comments were being leveled. It was destructive. As the drive to disagree continued, two participants had the courage to “provide some coaching about his behavior.” They offered their thoughts to him about his actions in and out of the classroom. He listened, but was not moved. He became more argumentative and doubled his efforts to be viewed as negative. This situation sealed my belief that it takes four upbeat people to offset one cynic.

What did we learn from this situation?

Cynicism is debilitating. It affects the entire tenor of the situation. What should be an upbeat environment ends up becoming confrontational and subdued. It impacts everyone’s enthusiasm.

It is difficult for us to confront the cynic. What are we concerned about? Two things – conflict and failure. We believe that the cynic will either disagree with us or ignore us. Neither outcome is exactly acceptable to us. So, we do nothing – nothing at all. The cynic depends on the “upbeats” to not take action. It is out of profile for the upbeat to confront the cynic for the purpose of change. Believe us at ILA. If you are unable to accept the challenge of confronting the cynic, your leadership will fall short of the mark.

Cynics are frustrated by their existence. Without coaching and a personal commitment to change, cynics are lost in their own pool of self-doubt and discontentment. As leaders, we can break this hold of cynicism. How? Listen, confront and understand.

Finally, if this strategy does not work, please do everyone a favor – dispatch the cynic!

Your results will not achieve close to expectations until you have the courage to take action. People are waiting for you to step up NOW.

Let us know how we can support you in this difficult step as a leader.

Copyright 2000 International Leadership Associates