Avoid the negativity trap
By Greg Wolf
I talked to my colleague Dr. Hubert Brown about some current ideas with him that might be appropriate for a topic in this column. He not only obliged with an idea, but also some narrative, which I'll share in this column relating to a top-of-mind topic with him these days--dealing with negative attitudes in the workplace. It is a subject that needs little introduction because we've all experienced it. Certain behavioral styles have a greater propensity toward negativity, but that offers little excuse when cautious or careful thinking turns to cynicism and criticism. I appreciated the light humor another colleague of mine, Amy Shoemaker, brought to this subject some time ago. I had facilitated a training session and I admit I was smarting with what I thought was some unfair criticism on an evaluation form. She assured me that I should appreciate the fact that the training participant would "likely go on and become a great auditor." In other words, some people are just more inclined to see the positive in every situation, and some just have an inclination toward critique and finding what falls short. What a great perspective and a positive way to frame that criticism in order to encourage me! That has been a number of years ago and I still remember it clearly today. To be fair, even though I smarted in the face of what I though was inappropriate criticism, I've been on the other side of it too. Honest "constructive criticism" can quickly lead to negativity and cynicism, and that is the concern Hubert has and is speaking to below.
I read a quote one time that went like this: "be careful if you are willing to call a spade a spade...that you don't start calling everything a spade!" That is what I mean by crossing the line from caution to cynicism and negativity. Negativity in the workplace (and, I might add, it isn't always found just at "lower" levels of the hierarchy) can have an extremely destructive effect on workplace morale. It can damage people, causing stress, conflict, and potentially even health problems in the workplace and at home. It can also divert purposes--obscuring lofty goals and objectives with a cloud of discontent and unrest. Lastly, it can dilute passion--leading employees at all levels of an organization to live more of a "treadmill" work life than a "triumphant" and satisfying one. Here are Hubert's thoughts:
"Recently, I visited with some members of a farm family that talked about their employees, and they mentioned that very often their employees are quite negative. To their farm workers, everything for them seems to be a 'downer' or a 'bummer.' To them, everything was 'bad, pointless or useless!' To our employees, they said, other people were 'idiots, clueless, users,' and when it came to sharing some ideas with them on what we as the farm mangers wanted, in private our ideas were 'stupid,' or they would say, 'That will never work!'
"These farm managers told me, 'Sometimes it's hard to be around our employees.' As they talked, I thought to myself, what a world to live in, and then I thought, that IS the world we live in. Unfortunately, whether on the farm or elsewhere, ours is too often a world of negativity and cynicism. We see it everywhere. News reports focus on some kind of impending cliff we all are going drop off; whether it's the mass media or social media, we are bombarded with large doses of doom and gloom.
"I don't think it's more prominent among farmers, but perhaps it is. Maybe you've read about the two farm workers: the positive farmer worker and a negative farmer worker. Whenever it would rain the positive farmer worker would say, 'Thank goodness for the rain--now we don't even have to water the crops.' The negative farmer worker would say, 'If this keeps up it will rot the crops at their roots and we won't have any crops to harvest this year.'
"How do we overcome the negativity trap on the farm or at any other workplace? Use the R.I.S.E. method, and rise above negativity.
1. Recognize it is an issue.
"If you hear people on the farm constantly criticizing, complaining and finding fault with everything, be aware that this type of mentality will sap energy from your farm, it will take away your true mission, and certainly keep the workplace from being a decent place to work. Recognition is the first step to overcoming its horrible effects."
2. Implement a personal policy of non-engagement.
"There are bitter, dissatisfied and envious people in the workplace who will speak rubbish. Decide that you are not going to engage in their negative games. Decide that you will not let negative people take you down."
3. Stay positive!
"In whatever work situation you find yourself in, learn to stay positive. Before you speak, think positive. Ask yourself, am I speaking negatively? If the answer is yes, then stop it and switch to a positive track. If a co-worker talks negatively, find something good to say--you'll be surprised how quickly they will move on when you keep doing that.
4. Each day, find something good to do to offset the negativity you see or hear in the workplace.
"In other words, rise above the negative fray, and have a good day!"
Editor's note: Greg Wolf is a consultant with Kennedy and Coe, LLC (www.kcoe.com) and works to help clients of the firm navigate toward better returns in all areas of their businesses. He is based in the firm's Pratt, Kan., office and can be reached at 620-672-7476.