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How to Overcome Workplace Negativity

How to Overcome Workplace Negativity

Workplace negativity can creep almost surreptitiously into any team and of any size. And when it does we can find ourselves having to deal with a lot of behavior that can make even the most optimistic and fun loving person wish that he or she were somewhere else. But just as workplace negativity can grow very quickly, it can also be reduced or even eliminated just as quickly with the right attitude and approach and in this brief article we want to describe ten ways in which this can happen.

1. Address any negativity directly and immediately.

When anyone make a negative comment the temptation is to remain silent or to ignore it. However, a better approach is to address it directly by asking the person to explain his or her comments thereby giving you the opportunity to express an alternative and more positive view.

2. List of what you like most about your job.

Once you have done this, make a point of talking to your colleagues about the key highlights, encouraging them to share their thinking and to do the same. The key here is to focus on the positives rather than the negatives.

3. Ask colleagues why they come to work.

Although some people will say to get paid, if we ask people to dig a little deeper there will be a number of reasons why a given individual chooses to spend 8 hours of their day or more at work. By reconnecting to this deeper purpose individuals are helped to make the smaller annoyances less frustrating.

4. Seek to “rise above” the emotions and the drama.

Rumors and gossip are often the fuel of negativity if they are left to fester and this can cause people to become more emotional about work than they should be. This may lead to unhealthy individual and team rivalries, which spawn overly dramatic behavior at times. The best approach here is not to participate and even better to “rise above” anyone behaving negative. Instead it is better to always respond with transparency and candor.

5. Look for optimistic and positive allies

Although it can sometimes not feel like it, typically it is only a few people that are consistently negative and it is therefore possible to reduce or even eliminate interactions with such people. Even better, it is always helpful to seek out the most positive and optimistic individuals Look around and spend as much time with them as possible. This may even mean being partners or allies in spreading good news and optimism and resisting negative comments and behavior.

6. Create an “envelope of excellence” or positive attitude “oasis”.

As an extension of the above, every individual can do an enormous amount individually to be positive and to actively create an “oasis” of optimistic attitudes that can be a role model to others. This helps to create a much wider team based positive culture which people are more likely to want to be part of.

7. Reward/recognize the “right” behaviors.

It’s pretty easy to see and privately complain about bad or negative behavior (which might manifest itself in general moaning, cruel gossip, sexual harassment or workplace bullying, for example), and this needs to be called out when it occurs. However, positive behavior also takes place and needs more good attention when it does. This means that such behavior should be actively welcomed, recognized publicly when appropriate and even rewarded (tangibly and intangibly) when justified.

8. Encourage people to see problems as great challenges to be tackled positively.

Some feelings of negativity and disappointment are inevitable and may be justified over the short term as people feel frustrated about the issues and problems they face on a day-to-day basis. However, much of this frustration can be changed with a different attitude in which all problems are embraced as opportunities and challenges to learn and grow (and may need the help of other positively minded people from time to time).

9. Encourage people to be as “light-hearted” as possible.

It may not take much for even only one or two more negative individuals to start to pull a whole team of people to feel affected or somewhat downhearted. But even if an individual feels adversely affected, it is often best not to show it and instead to show as much “light-heartedness” as can be mustered. Things like willingness to freely laugh at yourself and to difficult circumstances can be even more quickly influential.

10. Hold team meetings regularly.

Although its sounds obvious, negativity is best “nipped in the bud” as early and as quickly as possible and to do this it is important to get a team together regularly and ask them to raise personal issues, concerns and challenges and to talk about possible solutions. The more views of all kinds are openly expressed the more successfully a positive and “can-do” attitude and atmosphere can be maintained.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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