Why Bad Leaders Use Negging to Control Players, Employees, and Family Members
Updated: Feb 27
What is “Negging”?
Negging is an act of emotional manipulation whereby a person makes a deliberate backhanded compliment to another person to undermine their confidence and increase their need of the manipulator’s approval. — Wikipedia
Negging is something you hear moronic pickup artists talk about as a strategy to pick up girls. Negging is a form of bullying.
As it turns out, it's also used in the business and sports to try to control other people. I’ve never heard anyone call it “negging,” but it's really the same thing. Its a strategy to manipulate employees into “keeping them in-line” by lowering their self confidence.
What “Negging” is NOT
Giving people constructive criticism is not “negging.” In order to be successful, a good leader must be direct and honest about areas of improvement. This includes:
Holding someone to a high standard
Why Do Bad Leaders use Negging?
Negging is the laziest form of leadership because it CAN produce SHORT-TERM results.
It works great on people with low confidence such as entry-level employees
It can have powerful short-term resultsIt makes them feel powerfulIts easier (and lazier) than having an honest and direct conversation
They have low self-confidence themselves and need to bring other's confidence down
The best defense is a good offense. Leaders who have been victims of “negging” in the past are more likely to go on the offense
Lowering someone’s self confidence makes it less likely for them to leave you
Why Negging is a Bad Long Term Leadership Technique
Negging ONLY works on low level employees with low self confidence. Talented employees will just leave and you will be left with all the subpar talent.
Negging makes people less motivated in the long run
Negging leads to a toxic environment.
Negging limits the creative potential of teams.
People who are early in their careers need positive leadership to give them more confidence, not less.
Negging gets short term results at the sacrifice of building long term value
Extreme Example of a Negging Leader: Jason Brown from Last Chance U
Last Chance U illustrates perfectly how negging can work in the short term with transient, short-term relationships. Coach Brown gets players for 6-18 months and runs through desperate assistant coaches who are trying to launch their coaching careers.
When players and assistant coaches have moved their entire lives to the middle of nowhere Kansas, he has the power to treat people terribly without immediate repercussions:
Assistant coaches and players have to take the abuse on the chin in the moment. They go along to get along, but start focussing on putting themselves first instead of the team first. They quietly plot their next career move when they would be focussed on the season if they had a positive leader.
Coach Brown also verbally humiliates most of his players because he has all the power of their playing careers. He can cut them at any moment. Of course when you are trying to discipline 18-20 year old kids, tough love is required, but there is a fine line between tough love and negging/verbal abuse. It's clear as day, Coach Brown's tactics are clearly about satisfying HIS EGO and not about truly trying to make the kids better.
I've seen bad managers in business treat employees this way in the first 6 months they're hired. The managers think they have all the power because its common career advice not to leave a company after less than a year. Typically these abusive managers are operating from a deeply insecure and narcissistic place. If they win it was because of them. If they lose, they point the finger at everyone else around them-- in this case refs, community, players, and assistant coaches.
In the first season of Last Chance U with Brown's team, it looked like negging might actually work. Brown turned the ICC into the conference champions and one of the best JUCO schools in the nation in his second year.
However, once the short-term benefits of negging wore off, Brown's magic quickly disappeared and everyone turned on him. Brown was fired in his 3rd season when the team fell apart and only won 2 games. He was officially fired for texting a German player that he was his "New Hitler", but this was not even close to the worst thing he had told a player in his winning seasons.