How can you neutralize negativity where you work? In order to overcome conflict and promote collaboration one of your tasks may be to overcome negativity. You want constructive commentary and questions from your people. As a leader you want to promote listening, healing, empathy, compassion, and collaboration rather than negativity. This commentary will share some ideas with you that you can apply to yourself if you find yourself being negative and to help others with their negativity too.
Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore
“Oh me, oh my.”
“If it is a good morning, which I doubt.”
“Most likely I’ll lose it again anyway.”
“it’s all for naught.”
He consistently tended to look at things negatively.
Application at work
One year as a young middle manager when we had an in-person team meeting I asked my front-line managers to review Winnie the Pooh ahead of time and come with an idea of who they might be as a character as an ice breaker. The characters are Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, Rabbit, Owl and Gopher. One of my managers who tends to more skeptical, negative, and vocal self-identified himself as an Eeyore. He tended to look negatively at things.
Having a skeptic is indeed helpful and useful. Having someone that is negative to the point of detracting from the mission and vision is not.
When someone crosses the line and indeed is taking away from the focus how can you address this as a leader? The following commentary is here to help you with that question.
Why are we negative?
As a species we have survived a long time by being negative. When we see something new, we assess pretty quickly whether it will assist us with food, water, shelter, or sex. If not, we tend to look at it negatively.
Negativity is defined as “the expression or criticism or pessimism about something.”
However, not everyone sees negativity the same way. Different people may look at the same set of facts and range all the way from appalled to what a great opportunity. The question is what does negativity look like where you work, in your team, in your broader organization? Digging a little deeper, what are common characteristics of negativity?
When our children were small, I can remember talking with teachers about children at school. For children that were hungry, tired, thirsty, felt poorly, were slightly sick, or had other concerns, they tended to look at the world negatively. Don’t we as adults too?
If we do not have our basic physiological needs met, we tend to look at the world negatively.
We need to have our basic needs for food, water, sleep, and health addressed.
A study on sentencing by judges study found a clear pattern that if the judge was at the start of the day or had a break and got something to eat or drink they were more lenient. The physiological element of glucose level in the blood impacted attitude.
If things are not going well at home or outside of work, this too can have a major impact on negativity. With one of my prior employers, we found that about 10% of our employees were using the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for financial, drug, alcohol, juvenile delinquency, bitter divorce, or other reasons. When an employee is focusing on issues like these outside of work, the EAP was an effective way to address these types of issues. Sometimes work was the one place the employee really felt valued, safe, and wanted. In other instances, these outside stressors brought out the Eeyore in the employee. What about unrealized expectations?
You have expectations at work, at home, and in life. When these are not met, how do you feel? How do your people feel? This can result in anger, apathy, and negativity. Without addressing these issues, this can ferment and become contagious with others. Managing expectations with realistic aspirations, constructive feedforward to learn from experiences, and authentic caring can make a huge difference.
The Mayo Clinic Web MD offers insights on how to look for signs of stress and how to how to manage stress. Stress can impact your body, your thoughts, how you feel, and your behavior. Left unchecked this can cause diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity. To address stress movement (note I did not say exercise) by regularly walking, stretching, deep breathing, slowing down, taking a break, sharing concerns (journal or with others), getting enough sleep, eating appropriate foods, and not blaming others or yourself, can go a long way. So, what can you do regarding others that are negative?
- Work to ensure your people have proper food, water, rest, and permission to stay home when they do not feel well.
- Consider referring your people to the employee assistance program for elements outside of your expertise as a supervisor if you have and employee assistance program.
- If not accept things going on outside of work with your people by developing close working relationships and let up on them during these times.
- When someone does not receive that promotion, a chance to work on a particular project or task, is not granted training they want or other expectations are not met, talk about it. Look to the future. What can be learned from this for the future that we can address together. Recognize stress and work to reduce stress in the workplace.
Three gems of ideas to address negativity
Having identified and presented initial ideas on the four areas above here are three gems of ideas of what you can do as a leader to address negativity with your team. You are not out to change beliefs. You cannot change others attitudes. That is up to them. You can look for common values. You can build on values collectively.
1. When others are negative do not fall into the trap. Walk away if necessary. Do not engage in gossip. When others complain, you do not have to say a thing. Remain calm, competent, confident. Focus on the real problems, where you have control.
2. Be positive. Did you know that a smile is as powerful psychologically as you receiving 2,000 candy bars or $25,000? Smile. That is right a simple smile. Laugh. Change the subject to something else. If nothing else, how about the weather or a local sports team. Be appreciative of others. Say thank you. Look for ways help make the day better for someone else.
3. Do a reality check. Perceptions matter. What you think you see may or may not be someone else’s reality. Help manage your own and others’ expectations. Check your own reality first. Then, with the negative person, help them consider how blessed they really are. There is a tendency to make comparisons to those well outside of your reality. What are realistic expectations for them going forward?
These three ideas of avoiding negativity, staying positive, and doing a reality check can go along way towards addressing negativity with yourself and your team. Consider this a test. Try these out. See if they might help you when others go negative at work and enlist others to your cause. The rest of Winnie the Pooh’s team may be able to help you Eeyore. Collaborating with others with the common goal of how to work with Eeyore may help you, Eeyore, and you team. Do not let others’ negativity rule the day. Stay focused, persistent and maintain a healthy perspective and know you do the best you can every day.