Negativity is one of the most common and deeply ingrained obstacles to a healthy work environment, and it is critical to neutralize negativity as soon as it is spotted.
When working with front-line employees, supervisors and professionals in clinical settings, I’m often asked, “How can I reduce negativity at work? What can I do to create more positive interactions with my coworkers?
First and foremost, in order to form positive, healthy workplace relationships, you must learn how to communicate with your staff and patients, build trusting relationships and interact with your staff and patients in a respectful manner always. Next, to neutralize negativity in your practice, you have to understand the nature of negativity and where it comes from, identify negative behaviors and take corrective action to neutralize those behaviors once and for all.
Negativity: What is it, really?
Believe it or not, the term negativity does not mean the same thing to everyone or display itself consistently in all work settings. Each office, or even departments within a practice, can demonstrate negative interactions in different ways. So, the first step is to define: “What does negativity look like in your work setting?”
In getting feedback from managers and employees, we came up with a long list of common behaviors and characteristics.
|Examples of Negative Behaviors|
|Grumbling and complaining||Blaming others||Yelling|
|Sarcasm and cutting remarks||Condescension||Criticism|
|Physical aggression||Undercutting and undermining||Bullying|
|Walking away without answering||Cynicism||Mocking|
Understanding where negativity comes from
Negative reactions are created by a variety of factors and are often the result of a combination of issues. One of the most frequently ignored set of factors are the physiological ones. While it becomes obvious once mentioned, we need to remember we are more likely to react negatively when we are tired, hungry or thirsty or when we generally don’t feel well (for example, when we have a headache or are experiencing lower back pain).
But probably the most common source of negative reactions is when our expectations aren’t met. We get angry when what we think should happen doesn’t or when something does happen that we think shouldn’t.
So, if a team member is consistently displaying negative reactions in the workplace, it is quite likely they are experiencing a mismatch between their expectations and what they are experiencing in their day-to-day work life. This issue seems to be growing due to increasingly unrealistic expectations many have about what work should be like.
How to neutralize negativity in your practice
What can be done? Do you just have to accept the level of negativity expressed in your practice?
No, you don’t have to resort to walking on eggshells, waiting for someone to explode, or try to avoid colleagues who seem angry most of the time. Nor do you have to endure the seemingly endless complaining, grumbling and cynical comments made by others.
We do not have the power to change others’ attitudes. But we have the capability to influence those we work with on a daily basis. Here are three practical steps to begin with:
- Don’t engage in the negative. When others are complaining, keep quiet. If a group is gossiping about another team member, just walk away. When someone acts in a hostile way toward you, respond appropriately and calmly. Don’t add to the negative energy others are displaying.
- Contribute to the positive. A positive comment is like throwing water on a fire trying to get started. Smile. Make a humorous (non-cutting) comment. Tell someone thanks for a job done well. Comment on how nice the weather is or being thankful for air conditioning. A little positivity and gratefulness can douse a developing “negativity wildfire.”
- Explore your and others’ expectations and compare them with reality. Examine whether people’s expectations are reality-based. (Tip: It is best to start with yourself rather than others.) Compare your situation with other situations worse than yours and see how that impacts your perspective. Consider doing some in-service training with staff on what realistic and unrealistic expectations are for their jobs and workplace.
Unfortunately, negative attitudes and behaviors seem to reign in many workplaces. But don’t let others dominate and take control of your workplace environment. Each person can begin to take steps to help create a more positive workplace, and when employees work together to do so, a far healthier workplace culture can develop.
PAUL WHITE, PhD, is a psychologist, speaker and leadership expert who “makes work relationships work.” He has been interviewed by the New York Times, BBC News and other international publications. White is the coauthor of Rising Above a Toxic Workplace and Making Things Right at Work). For more information, go to appreciationatwork.com.