Countering Negative Attitudes Without Becoming Negative Yourself
Poet T.S. Eliot said, “Let’s not be narrow, nasty, and negative.” Musician Barry Mann said, “It’s amazing how a competitive nature can turn a negative into something positive.” The first quote of Eliot’s warns of negativity. The second embraces competition, even in negative situations, to produce positives.
Like it or not, throughout your career, you will find team members, stakeholders and even project leaders who are negative to the core. Nothing can please them and never will. The sun is never shining and the glass is always half empty. These people, in my opinion, exist because mankind needs to be different in order to be interesting (perhaps a doing of the higher up being some of us believe in, or perhaps not!)
Still, some negativity in those we work with comes from situations out of their control. Financial and family problems are often to blame. A divorce, a death, a sudden change in one’s personal life can make for some strong negativity at work.
The great thing about negativity is that you don’t have to let it envelope you in simply because you work around someone who wraps themself in it.
So, how do you remain positive when dealing with negativity?
I dislike the words, “Turn negatives into positives by…” These words are overused and it’s not as easy as it sounds. You can do this with the simple stuff like smiling at someone who frowns all day or offering assistance to a frustrated co-worker by using the words, “Can I help?” While negativity cannot always be cured by being positive, wouldn’t it be nice if it could?
If you want to learn using positives to rid yourself of negativity, there’s already been tons written about the subject. Instead, l will focus on just staying positive because people, unfortunately, no matter how much you believe you can, are hard to change.
Everyone has worked for or with negativity and negative people—and that’s a sad fact. There are those who feel compelled to make it their mission in life to change the minds, the hearts, and the souls of these folks and sometimes all that does is bring frustration to the self-appointed people changer.
The following sections reveal some things I have done to keep myself positive around those I’ve worked around full of doom and gloom.
These are the most common types of negative people at work. They run around and warn about the darkest of the dark and are at the top of the doom and gloom ladder. You can listen to them and help spread their gossip or you can dismiss them immediately. I worked in the HR department for a large company in Arizona where the assistant controller always felt it necessary to tell me there was never going to be enough money for payroll and the company was indeed going under. At first, I played the game.
“Really? Do tell!” I’d say. He’d go on and on about unpaid vendors and such and I’d nod in agreement, my legs under my desk jumping—I’d be running to the water cooler ASAP to let everyone know! Soon, however, I learned this was his deal and he enjoyed it. The third time he told me about the no money issue, I spoke up.
“You know, I simply disagree!” I said. “I hope you have a great day!” He walked away.
Deal with Chicken Littles by dismissing them. Let them go and be negative somewhere else because you have no room for it.
I love these folks. They know the chosen project management methodology is a horrible choice for the project at hand. The team isn’t skilled enough and the project plan is a mess! Again, a co-worker I once had the pleasure of knowing was a doubter. She’d go on and on about how the latest advertising campaign would never succeed or the colors chosen for the company softball league uniforms were wrong.
Instead of agreeing with the doubters and being sucked in, if you have the power and are the project leader, put them in charge of risk management. If you are a stakeholder or another sort such as a team member, request the doubter be moved to risk management.
Risk management is part of any project, so why not put those most qualified on the what-ifs in charge? You can also introduce them to their new BFF, Chicken Little.
Those who are negative due to personal drama are the hardest to deal with because they are faced with situations often out of their control. However, the worst thing you can do is trying to aid them. They are not your family; they are your co-worker. Instead of engaging them, speak to someone you trust in the HR department and let them know the co-worker is bringing his or her home issues to work.
It’s the job of HR to offer employee assistance programs including counseling. Let the experts take care of those with personal drama messes because it’s not your job to clean up their life.
Unfortunately, workplace bullying and plain old mean bosses are on the rise in today’s workforce and both bring negativity. Say it’s your boss who is just horrible. He screams in your face until you think he’ll have a stroke. He demands an answer right, right now! Instead of telling him to go Tweet about it, simply stay calm and offer a firm stare and don’t say a word. The yelling boss will soon back down when they realize how stupid they sound.
On the other hand, if you’re dealing with an outright bully, this negativity is not something anyone has to put up with. Report the bully and don’t engage the bully. If after reporting, the bullying continues, report the bully again. Chances are those at the top are just waiting for enough “just cause” to terminate the employee / employer relationship.
So, there are indeed the Chicken Littles, the Doubters, those with personal drama, and the big bad Meanies, and all of us have had a taste of them at one time or another. Skip the urge to think you have the power to change these negative people—you really don’t. Instead, try using some of the above tips to stay positive yourself.
Encouraging bad behavior only brings more bad behavior. Being sucked into negativity will make you negative. Stop the drama, step back, and do something that will make you feel better. Above all, unless it’s in your job description as company counselor, it’s not your job to stop negativity. What you can do is confront it or ignore it or deal with it in a way that makes your environment a happy and content one.
Ever had to deal with too much negativity at work? If so, drop me a comment on how you handled it. Or, are you guilty of bringing doom and gloom and a dark forecast to your office? I’d like to hear from you too!
Countering Negative Attitudes Without Becoming Negative Yourself