Negativity in the Work Place
After being away this past week and experiencing a bunch of personal negativity I wanted to take what I was feeling and relate it to my professional situation. Perhaps it is the idea that I feel we all need to find the silver lining in the situation, myself included, but I also want you both to be able to see what lies on the other side—no matter how hard or how frustrating the job may become.
All people have reason to become negative about their work or their organization occasionally. But when negativity becomes a habit for you, your team members, or the entire organization, it dramatically affects productivity and profitability.
Negativity is a virus that spreads rapidly from one person to another. We tend to mirror each other. Individuals can bring the virus to work or catch it from others in the organization. The negativity virus can spread quickly in a matter of days or weeks, and once transmitted, it is difficult to cure.
The effects of negativity are devastating to any organization and can lead to so many issues.
Here is the my breakdown of Negativity in the workplace and ways to resolve it.
Negativity is an attitude we communicate at work in three ways:
- Verbally. We may say things such as “Bad idea — it will never work,” or “no way.”
- Vocally. We can whine, yell, be sarcastic, or speak inaudibly.
- Visually. We can frown, avoid eye contact, fold our arms, etc.
We don’t all show negativity in the same way. Dozens of types of negativists exist (these descriptions were borrowed for this lesson thank you to Starwood)
- The Steamrollers. When they become negative, they get angry and hostile, taking out their frustrations on others. They come across as being tyrannical, autocratic, and dictatorial.
- The Ice People. These are the resisters of change. They like things the way they are or were and become negative when you try to get them to do something differently. They usually do not openly express their resistance. They may even say the change is good and then not implement it or, worse, sabotage the change.
- The Rumormongers. They take out their negativity toward work or other people by spreading rumors. They sense a loss of control regarding their environments, and passing along or creating rumors helps them regain a sense of control.
- The Scapegoaters. They cannot take responsibility for their own mistakes or for the negative situations that they find themselves in. They shift the blame to others.
- The Eggshells. They are our very sensitive people. The slightest thing said to them, if misconstrued, causes them to crack. Once they crack, they become negative.
- The Micros. When they are in their negative moods, they focus on the smallest, most unimportant details. If they are managers, they drive their people crazy.
- The Pessimists. When they are negative, they believe the world is an unpleasant place, and they do everything possible to make it so for themselves and for others.
So what do you do? That’s the million dollar question right? When an employee’s negativity becomes pervasive, leaders have no choice but to confront it and hold the negativist accountable for changing his or her behavior. If we do not do this, we give the message that negative behavior is acceptable. Quite often, negativists do not even realize that they are coming across negatively at work. It is best for the supervisor of a negativist manager to confront the individual, but I also have seen team members quite successfully address it. Three confrontation steps can help:
- Specifically identify the negative behavior and its business impact. If there is no impact, there is no problem. Remember to give concrete examples.
- Wait for a response. This is the person’s opportunity to either own up or explain the reasons for the negative behavior. The person may have legitimate reasons for his or her actions.
- Identify alternative, more positive ways to behave. Wise managers will assign the negativist with the task of coming up with this action plan. If the person cannot, though, you need to. The individual must be held accountable for changing the negative behavior.
Keep in mind that the main reasons to confront an individual’s negativity are to help out the employee, help other people affected by the person’s negativity, and improve the organization’s productivity.
Turning Negative into Positive (again from Starwood)
Managers can turn to many techniques to abate negativity. Many are short term, but they help you and others maintain a healthy attitude.
- Play your winners. When someone is in a negative mood, he or she should have pictures of loved ones, friends, vacation trips, and other depictions of uplifting and warm moments in the office or workspace. Posting certificates, awards, or letters from a pleased customer on the walls is another way to play your winners.
- 3, 2, 1…1, 2, 3. I had a colleague, Elizabeth Fosnight brand trainer for Westin and my six sigma trainer, who tends to be negative. She had a long list of everything that is not going well. I would ask her to select the three worst things, then the two worst, and finally, the worst. By doing this, Elizabeth or ELF as we called her because her middle name was Lynn (true story) focuses. When we are in a negative state of mind, we lose the ability to focus. This loss of clarity contributes to negativity. Then I would ask ELF to come up with one aspect of her life that is fine, then two, then three. The “3, 2, 1 … 1, 2, 3” approach changes the thinking paradigm from negative to positive.
- Set a time limit. It is okay to be negative from time to time — but give yourself or others a time limit. Tell yourself or staff members that they can be as negative as they want to on the way to work, but as soon as they walk into the building, the negativity stops. Another suggestion is to let staff express their negativity for the first five minutes of a meeting and then allow only neutral or positive discussion.
- Turn on a tape recorder. Have your negative team members speak into a tape recorder for a few minutes when they are in one of their negative moods. They will be astonished at how awful they sound. They soon will change their tone of voice and their choice of words.
- Take a timeout. Get colleagues who are in danger of going into negative states to take a timeout and remove themselves from the negative situation. Five or ten minutes away can do wonders and keep that person in a positive mindset.
- Personal renewal time. Spending 20 minutes or so each day alone — at work or at home, without any distractions — thinking of pleasant experiences and places — can result in significant mood changes.
- Make merry. Anytime you can move someone who is being negative into a group of optimistic people, the negative behavior is bound to diminish dramatically. Done regularly, the negative person begins to develop the behaviors and attitudes of the optimists. If optimists are difficult to find in your organization, recommend that the negativist surround herself with optimistic people outside of work. The same attitude transference will take place this way as well.
Honestly I can tell you both that my biggest successes in my career have come from taking a negative into a positive. I believe we have that opportunity in Pasco. We have challenges, but much more than challenges we have opportunities. You see the Felix’s of the world focus on the negative. They focus on the mission, on the drugs, etc. They are no doubt issues needing to be addressed, but let’s not forget the opportunity we all have to make this area a true success!
I am attaching a YouTube video of a song that I listen to everyday on my way to work and every day on my way home. It’s not a song about world peace, but personal peace. Find it and the world looks so much brighter!