Overcoming Workplace Negativity

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PAS-It-On Vol 12 Issue 2

“Good morning, how are you today? ”A typical response is “Fine, how are you?” Or perhaps the per- son we greet responds with positivity, enthusiasm and good will. “I’m just peachy-keen and wonderful today! Loving the beautiful weather! What about you?” These people generally have some- thing uplifting to share and have an upbeat, optimistic attitude about life, work and every day.

We have also experienced the uncomfortable moment when someone responds with a litany of negativity, of tales of woe ranging from bad hair days to mechanical problems with their car, from “the kids are driving me crazy” to “this company is the worst place to work in the state”. Uh-oh! And no matter the day, one calamitous response is more tragic than the next. Each of us will experience difficult times in our lives. Having someone in the workplace who will empathize with us is an important part of finding the support we need to persevere and bounce back. However, that is very different from selectively approaching life with a negative focus.

Individual negativity can have many sources, but negativity can also be a culture. Negativity in the workplace has real costs: reduced productivity, stress-related health care costs, increased turnover, low employee engagement, compromised safety and more. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that companies lose $3 billion a year to the effects of negative attitudes and behaviors at work! Overcoming negativity in the workplace is a valuable skill that can help your team rise above the fog and move forward with a clearer, more positive vision that leads to a more productive and happier workforce.

Turn Complaining into Conversation

One thing to understand at the outset – complaining is not necessarily a NEGATIVE thing. Complaints can often bring to light legitimate issues such as problems in production, a safety concern, or a performance problem. Such complaints can be addressed properly and resolved. Companies often use some form of a “Suggestion Box” to help elicit these types of concerns. Some go so far as to rename their suggestion system to a “Suggested Improvements” box or a “For Your Consideration” box. These simple name changes shift the attitude about making a suggestion from “complaining” to being proactive and engaging employees in the problem-solving process.

When Negativity is the Norm

On the other hand, sometimes complaining happens because it is simply a habit. It’s a comfort zone for conversation. Itis easy to find something to complain about, then launch into a conversation with others about the problem. The myth is that we will feel better after “commiserating” with others. Contrary to popular belief, psychologists say that habitual complaining does NOT help anyone feel better; it often only spreads the discontent. However, as with any habit, it can be changed. In the end it is a matter of choice and self-discipline. Do we choose the familiar but negative response, or do we try new things (perhaps awkward and uncomfortable at first) to shift our attitude or habit toward a more positive end?

Keys to Curbing Negativity

From an organizational standpoint, communication is a powerful tool that can help curb negativity. For example, when changes are announced in an organization, oftentimes access to information is restricted a code of silence protecting information as “privileged.” Some information may need to be confidential for obvious reasons, but consider this –negativity, speculation and gossip breeds in the vacuum of silence. Lacking any official sources of information, employees are resigned to getting information second- and third-hand. That information is rarely positive, accurate or beneficial toward helping your workforce adapt productively to change. Take the lead. Control the tone of conversations by providing information in a timely manner, sharing the successes and the challenges that the situation will bring.

Another tactic is to set our focus on a regular basis toward appreciating the positive that we see. In his book, Whale Done! The Power of Positive Relationships, Ken Blanchard highlights the power that reinforcement of positive behaviors can have both at work and home life. According to Blanchard, “Attention is like sunshine to humans. What we give our attention to, grows. What we ignore withers.” Challenge yourself to keeping a log for a day or two. What are you focusing your attention on? Is it generally positive, appreciative feedback that helps keep employees motivated and productive? Or is your attention largely focused on negative aspects of performance or events? Remember, like a garden, what you tend to and give attention to will prosper and grow – are you cultivating the right things?

Complaining is not a conversation.
~James Victore

Cultivate a Constructive Culture

Workdays are filled with ever-changing challenges. Keeping a positive outlook and cultivating a culture of positivity may be an ongoing challenge for managers and employees alike. Use the experts at PAS to help you and your staff identify successful methods for overcoming workplace negativity. Onsite seminars are available on a variety of topics that address the workplace environment. PAS also offers management consultants and organizational psychologists who are only a phone call away. Don’t spend your day wondering “what if?” Talk to an organizational consultant today and find out!

As Ken Blanchard points out, “Positive responses motivate people to do positive things. It’s an upward spiral.


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