Minimize negativity in the workplace

Published 10:37 pm Friday, November 24, 2017

There is nothing that impacts workplace morale more than persistent workplace negativity. Managers need to maintain their fingers on the pulse of the organization in order to be aware of any warning signs that all is not well. It is important to be open to employee complaints and conduct exit interviews with staff members leaving the company.

People who are negative don’t always know they are negative. Instead, they think they are the saviors of the organization. It is an ever increasing problem in the workplace, according to Gary S. Topchik, the author of “Managing Workplace Negativity.” He states in a “Management Review” article, that negativity is often the result of a loss of confidence, control or community.

Negativity takes many different forms which include some of the following.
• Complaining and whining
• Putting others down
• Talking about others behind their backs
• Highlighting others’ mistakes, blaming others
• Expecting the worst
• Sabotaging plans

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The first step in solving the problem is knowing what people are negative about. The attitudes are much like a cold, it can start with one employee, but soon spreads like wildfire. There is a cure but as in curing the common cold, it won’t happen overnight. 

Following are some steps for overcoming workplace negativity.

1. Turn barriers into opportunities — Maintain your own positive attitude and control your responses as you discover negative behaviors and attitudes.

2. Replace negative talk with positive talk — Negative thoughts lead to negative actions as positive thoughts result in positive actions.

3. Build relationships based on trust — Utilize enthusiasm to build relationships. Without trust you cannot influence positive change. Building trust will increase others’ comfort levels and strengthen relationships.

4. Disagree agreeably — Your ideas can be heard and considered if you avoid becoming defensive. Keep the lines of communication open, up and down. Look at others’ perspectives and appreciate differences.

5. Stop blaming and start learning — Don’t point the finger of blame when something goes wrong. Review what could have been done differently. Learn from your mistakes, adapt and grow.

6. Take ownership — Instead of complaining about a problem, do something about it. If you find yourself complaining about a problem multiple times, it can become poisonous to you and others. Take action and make changes.

7. Practice random acts of kindness — One of the best things a person can do is to do kind things for others, without being asked. Simple things like opening the door for someone, helping carry a load, leaving a generous tip, etc., will add up to your feeling good about yourself and what you did. It will create positive energy for yourself and those around you.

8. Hire optimistic people — Surround yourself with people who bring positive qualities to the company. They will believe they can solve problems and make an impact.

9. Be transparent — People who feel out of the loop get discouraged and  become disengaged which leads to dysfunction. Communicate through formal and informal ways. Provide communication channels, that work from bottom to top as well as top to bottom.

10. Encourage creativity and innovation — Providing opportunities  for your staff to innovate and effect change in the company is a negativity-buster. Learn to “let go” and practice active listening. Putting the tools in your staff’s hands will result  in making improvements to the company. Empowering people to come up with positive solutions will make a difference.

11. Have fun at work — You don’t have to be serious all the time. Integrate fun into the workplace and people will be happier and more productive on the job.

12. Cut your bad apples loose — This may be one of the hardest things you have to do but also one of the most critical. Those who always see the glass half empty, focus only on the problems and never offer solutions, are poisonous to the workplace environment. Hold people accountable. You must develop a strategy to deal with them. Very few can be turned around and must be terminated. Ensure that you work with HR, document issues, coach for improvement, etc, before pulling the trigger. You will not regret the decision and will soon realize how negative the impact has been.

Closing the door on negativity is necessary to make room for positive efforts to flourish. Addressing negativity in the workplace will promote workplace safety, prevent workplace violence and create positive morale. Start from a position of trust, believe in your people and you will be able to improve performance, engagement and productivity. It will be well worth the effort.

Becky Vaughn-Furlow retired from Trustmark Bank as executive vice president and human resources director. She can be contacted by emailing