Say Yes! 7 Tips To Eliminate Negativity in Your Workplace
I recently led an all-day seminar where a few people in the room exuded negativity starting from complaints about the breakfast and continuing relentlessly regardless of topic, discussion or activity. Cynical, overly critical of colleagues, adding only contradictions and challenges, they each had nary a kind word for anyone.
Even if a person is not aggressive in her negativity, personalities that always look on the dark side remind me of the “Saturday Night Live” classic character of Debbie Downer played by Rachel Dratch—always complaining.
Some of us work with colleagues, bosses, team members, clients or customers who routinely have something bad to say about anything and everything. The great news is there are distinct strategies to shift this dark cloud on the dark side.
“In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Dementors are evil creatures that suck souls out of people’s bodies, leaving them mere shells of humans. Rowling said she developed the concept for Dementors based on highly negative people—the type of person who has the ability to walk into a room and instantly drain the life out of it,” writes Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and cofounder of TalentSmart. “Dementors impose their negativity and pessimism on everyone they encounter, and they can inject fear and concern into even the most benign situations,” Bradberry writes in Association for Talent Development.
Knocking an idea from the beginning, dismissing a colleague’s work or just adding a “This will never work” approach to everything are just some of the symptoms of a negative personality in the office.
In one of his recent studies, “of more than 3,000 leaders about lying and other bad behaviors in the workplace,” Murphy writes, “we discovered that 53 percent of people have seen an increase in criticism, 48 percent have seen an increase in dismissing others’ ideas and 36 percent have seen an increase in hostility or disparaging others.“
Aside from moving your office, seat in the conference room or finding a new place to work, key strategies can deflate the negativity and possibility turn around a naysayer into if not a happy person, at least a neutral person.
Listen and redirect, asking for evidence. Murphy suggests, “Imagine you’re in a meeting and you hear someone make one of those blanket negative statements (e.g. that will never work, this company doesn’t care about its employees, we’re just gonna get trounced by the competition, etc.). The 9 words you’re going to say are, ‘I’m curious, what evidence brought you to that conclusion?’ Perhaps the individual just wants a chance to be heard. And also if there is no clear evidence the person suggests, you can also politely say you are happy to consider the response when there is evidence.”
Nurture relationships. You can create a culture that values each person and perhaps this negative person does not feel values. In Harvard Business Review, Abby Curnow-Chavez, partner at The Trispective Group and co-author with of The Loyalist Team: How Trust, Candor, and Authenticity Create Great Organizations, writes, “Our research indicates that the single most important factor in team success or failure is the quality of relationships on the team. In fact, 70 percent of the variance between the lowest-performing teams, which we call saboteur teams, and the highest-performing teams, or what we have labeled loyalist teams, correlates to the quality of team relationships — not some or most of the relationships, but all of them. Thus, one toxic team member is all it takes to destroy a high-performing team.”
Go high. You know the phrase popularized by Michelle Obama about going high when others go low. So practice this behavioral transcendence. Shaun Belding, author of The Journey to WOW, tells Stephanie Vozza in Fast Company, “Don’t stoop to their level. Watch for and manage your fight-or-flight response. The more you can maintain your focus on team goals, the less likely you are to become blinded by win/lose thinking with this toxic peer. Be the role model for how you want the team to act. Set a standard with the rest of the team that supports collaboration and open dialogue, not retaliation.”
Belding, whose company “The Belding Group provides services that monitor call centers, listening to the recordings of customer interactions,” according to Vozza, studies the negative responses of callers. “Call centers will have a negative incident with a customer who becomes angry and audibly upset, and it becomes worse and worse, but the vast majority didn’t start that way,” he says. “When you rewind the call, you can find the exact moment it went sideways. It’s when emotions turn negative and are lit on fire. It’s almost always when somebody says ‘no’ or ‘yeah, but.’ Those are negative trigger words.” Belding adds, “A lot of people aren’t aware until they become conscious of it. It’s language to learn and unlearn. If you get known in the workplace as that negative person, your career can come grinding to a stop.”
Listen and offer solutions. Sabina Nawaz writes in Forbes, “Active listening boosts oxytocin levels in the brains of both the speaker and the listener. Oxytocin, often referred to as the love hormone, can help build connection and trust in any relationship. When you’re engaged in a conversation in which you feel fully heard, the neurochemical is released in your body and will lead you to continuously seek out those you’ve connected with and invest in those relationships.” Nawaz adds, “Most of us want to be helpful and add value to the people we work with. A trap we fall into is speaking too soon and too much. We jump in with our ideas, advice and examples in hopes that others will benefit from our thoughts and appreciate us. Instead, you’ll create value by listening first and listening more often than you speak. When your colleagues feel heard, they’ll appreciate you and you’ll both feel more connected to each other.”
Avoid the grass is always greener over there approach. John Brandon writes in Inc,“Toxic people are always talking about ‘something better’ in work and life. They tend to be irritable and edgy because whatever they are experiencing now is not good enough. Just a small dose of exposure to this can be deadly, so once you notice it at work, try to avoid this type of thinking as much as possible. The real truth? You don’t know if there is a better place to work, or a better job, or a better boss. Granted, you may be in a working environment that is toxic and you need to leave, but for most of us, you are probably in a reasonably healthy workplace–you took the job with high hopes, and it’s not a bad strategy to keep having those high hopes. For some reason, toxic people always think ‘the next thing’ will be better, no matter what it is. More than anything, that creates a hopeless existence.”
Break up the whiners and negative personalities. As a manger, do what you can to avoid crating teams with negative people who can reinforce such unproductive behavior, And for sure try to avoid being on a negative team as it is exhausting. “Another interesting trait with all toxic people is that they tend to move in packs. The toxic cloud expands, latches onto a new person, and forms a dark bond. Bad company corrupts, as they say, and it also makes you miserable,” writes Brandon. “When you see a group of complainers, take a second to think about who you are around the most. My advice is to choose people who will invest in you, who want to see you grow and become a better person. There’s no toxic sludge inside of these folks; they won’t wear you out with negativity and bitterness. Keep an eye out for people who have insight and a positive outlook. If you are surrounded by miserable people, there’s a good chance you’re going to also end up being miserable as well.”
Be positive. Sometimes just silence works on a complainer. And sometime countering each complaint with a smile or an antidote works. Curnow-Chavez writes that you need to work to shift from negative to positive in the workplace. Otherwise, “The saboteur’s behavior becomes the norm de facto. Well-intended team members begin to reflect this bad behavior as well, treating a toxic teammate with disrespect, griping behind their back, and keeping them out of the loop whenever possible.” She writes, “If you are the team leader, the way forward is clear. You need to acknowledge what’s happening with the team, and you must hold the toxic team member to a higher standard of behavior. Regardless of their productivity, results, technical expertise, raw intelligence, or invaluable experience, you cannot tolerate behavior that drags down everyone else on the team.”
The good news is there is good news about being positive, uplifting and energized at work. If you are, your colleagues are likely to be as well.
Caroline Webb writes in Quartz, “Your behavior is surprisingly contagious. Psychologists have found that merely being near someone in a good mood can be enough to lift people’s motivation within five minutes, while being near someone grumpy can do the opposite. In fact, research has shown that just looking at photos of people smiling or grimacing is enough to provoke measurable feelings of happiness or sadness. The upshot: get annoyed with your situation at work, and it’s likely to leak into the behavior of those around you. Find something to feel good about, and there’s at least a chance they’ll mirror some of that back at you.”
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldonwww.micheleweldon.com