Does One Bad Apple Really Spoil the Whole Bunch?

I’m currently fascinated by Bad Apples. Bad Apples the metaphor for people, not so much the fruit. But of course there are corollaries. So the first question at hand is, “does one bad apple really spoil the whole bunch? For fruit, the answer is yes. Because ethylene. But what about people? From my experience, the answer is also a resounding yes. But don’t take my word for it. Check out this University of Washington study overview, which defined Bad Apples as “negative people as those who don’t do their fair share of work, who are chronically unhappy and emotionally unstable, or who bully or attack others.” They found that Bad Apples elicited coping mechanisms in other employees such as “denial, social withdrawal, anger, anxiety and fear.”

I know, I know, this is not really new. The saying exists for a reason. However, it does set the stage for some further inquiries I’ve been making around Bad Apples. So stay tuned for the Bad Apple series as we explore Bad Apples in Sports, how to deal with Bad Apples in your circles, and how to avoid becoming a Bad Apple.

From Humbug to Hooray in Less than 30 Minutes

It has been a tough week. I have felt “off” for most of the week with interrupted sleep, too many personal tasks, not enough working out, and insufficient fresh fruits and veggies. By this morning, I was a grump. I was doing my best to hide it, but I was not a happy camper. 

At work, I’m a manager and I was heading into my team’s Friday morning huddle. “Huddles” are where we get together as a group and bring everyone up to speed on our individual work. I lead the conversation, which helps set the tone for the day. We had a rotational analyst whose last day was today so we had a few extra people around the table to wish him well in his next adventure. We also have a tradition on Fridays. The idea is to have a discussion prompt that as we give our updates, each person answers. These tend to be icebreaker style questions to get people talking for the purpose of team-building. Something like, “If you could pick any single superpower other than immortality or endless wealth, what would it be?” Did I mention that I was grumpy? I was in no mood to even participate in this conversation let alone lead it. That’s when an interesting thing happened.

I admitted that I didn’t have a prompt for today’s discussion and asked the team to generate one. After a couple of miscues, we settled on, “How have you changed in the past 5 years?” I asked someone at the far end of the line away from me to go first. I had hoped that we’d run out of time before getting to me. As we worked our way around the table, people told stories of graduating college and finding new friends, of watching kids grow up and needing to adjust parenting style, of seeing parents grow old and feeble, and of harrowing tales of having a child recover from a tumor. Some people got married, some people were once rock stars, some had children of their own, and some went on amazing trips to volunteer abroad. As I scanned the room, I was floored by the smiles on people faces. One young lady exclaimed, “We’re a bunch of badasses!” We laughed out loud. 

In the end, there was just enough time for me. With my mood lifting, I explained that I had gotten married a second time (very happily), I changed industries and no longer had to travel to marginally secure Mexican border towns, I had a child start college and another start high school while I maintained great relationships with both, and that I ran my first marathon and then kept on going for 3 more on the year (which prompted good natured calls of Forrest Gump). We all filed out of that meeting room with smiles on our faces. Two of the guests from other work teams said that they were going to use the Friday discussion prompts for their teams. Before I got back to my desk, a co-worker looked at me in earnest and said, “Really good meeting, thanks.”

The truth is that today, it wasn’t really my meeting at all. If given the choice, I wouldn’t have held it. I didn’t come up with the discussion prompt and I talked very little until the last 2 minutes. Prior to the meeting, I had tried to break through my grumpiness a couple of times with short meditations, listening to music, and even going for a brisk walk. Nothing helped. I had resolved to quietly grumble my way through my day and then sweat it out this weekend on a long run. Instead, I got support without asking for it. I was lifted by others’ stories of accomplishment and gratitude, which helped me practice my own. The mood carried me through a very productive day and into the evening.

I’m still a novice in my mindfulness practice. But I’m learning. I tend to be problem-solver and most of the time I can work things out for myself. Today, I learned first-hand about the power of having a support group – even when the group was none-the-wiser that they are supporting you. Sometimes, I just gotta get out of my own way.