Dealing With a Negative Crew Member: Seven Skills to Try

Author: IAFF Staff

September 29, 2019

Experiencing positive social connections is critical to individual resilience. This is especially true in the fire service. Think about your typical shift at the firehouse. Often, it’s not how many calls you run that determines how the day will go — it’s the crew you are working with and the quality of those interactions.

Research by renown psychologist Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson has determined that for every negative interaction we have at work, we need at least three positive interactions to counteract the impact on our mood, brain and bodies. Think about your last shift or how your day is going today. Did you get enough positive interactions to counteract any negative ones?


Everyone is bound to have a bad day at some point. Whether it’s due to stress at home or challenges on the job, if a crew member brings a bad attitude to the shift, it’s not long before the rest of the crew is affected. While some degree of venting is important for emotional validation and comradery, too often we find ourselves stuck in a negative conversation or cyclical complaining at the kitchen table. It’s true at the station, at home and with friends — often misery loves company.

Redirecting a Negative Conversation: An Essential Life Skill

Instead of getting sucked into some else’s bad mood, next time try a few of these skills to redirect a negative conversation. You’ll be surprised how a subtle tweak in your response is sometimes all that’s needed to turn around a conversation.
  • Empathize: This is simply saying to someone, “Hey, I can understand how you feel in this situation.” Sometimes just feeling emotionally heard is enough to help a person move on.
  • Offer encouragement: Expressing positive regard and confidence in another crew member can go a long way. “Hey, I know the chief is riding you hard lately, but he knows the good things you’re capable of.”
  • Validate their perspective: Beyond recognizing someone’s feelings, offering validation means you acknowledge their perspective on a situation. A captain might offer, “I hear the feedback that B shift hasn’t been cleaning up around here and you are right; it was a mess today and I’ll address it.”
  • Use humor to deflect: A well-timed joke can always help lighten the mood and help everyone take themselves a little less seriously. Humor is good medicine, as long as it is not always at someone’s expense.
  • Ask for clarification: Use a neutral tone to clarify the problem. An example might be, “So, it sounds like you’re frustrated that community events seem to disproportionately fall on this shift? Or, are you more annoyed that the time of the event conflicts with your workout?”
  • Change the subject: Simply change the focus of the conversation and shift to a neutral subject. “I know those repeat callers really test my patience, too. Anyway, what are you and the kids up to this weekend?”
  • Do not engage: When all these skills have failed and someone is really set on pulling you in, you always have a choice to disengage. This means you simply don’t respond. If necessary, calmly get up and walk away.
It’s up to you to create positive interactions with your crew members, friends and family in your daily life. While interpersonal skills come easier to some than others, changing the way you interact with negativity and the world around you is a primary goal of behavioral health treatment.

Untreated mental health problems can make it a lot harder to put your best foot forward in relationships. If you are an IAFF member struggling with depression, substance abuse, trauma or grief, consider calling the IAFF Center of Excellence today for a free screening. The Center is a residential behavioral health treatment facility exclusively for IAFF members located about 45 minutes from IAFF headquarters in Washington, DC. The Center offers detox, inpatient, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient and outpatient levels of care for alcohol, substance abuse and other behavioral health problems.  

__________________________________   Lauren Kosc, M.A., LCPC is a behavioral health specialist, clinician and blog editor for the International Association of Fire Fighters. If you are an IAFF member in recovery and want to share your story, contact [email protected].

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