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Overcoming Workplace Negativity – Six ideas to stop the contagion

By Merge Gupta-Sunderji, MBA, CSP

(569 words)

Negative people … they’re in every workplace. You know who they are. They never have anything good to say about anything or anyone. They languish around the office, victims in a world that is conspiring against them. And lest you fail to notice, they are quick to point out why something won’t work. But worst of all: their sour attitudes bring the rest of the workplace down.

It’s this contagious and toxic nature of negativity that creates havoc in workplaces and causes untold grief for managers and supervisors. The effect negative people have in a workplace is akin to adding a few drops of coffee to a glass of clear water. Within minutes, the drops of coffee swirl and spread through the water and immediately cloud and darken the mixture. Just a few negative people can dampen team morale and productivity. So what can you do about it?

1. Start with yourself
You can’t expect your team to be positive if you’re the Negative Nellie bringing everyone else down! And a positive attitude must be cultivated – the seeds planted, watered, given sufficient light and nutrients, protected from predators and diseases, and allowed to grow and flower. Recognize that your attitude is a choice you make every single day. When bad things happen (and they will), it’s up to you to decide how to respond. Will you nurture a “can-do” attitude, or will you curl up and bemoan that the world is conspiring against you?

2. Challenge existing beliefs
Have the courage to speak up. When coworkers use extreme words such as “always” and “never,” question them. When John says “there’s no point in saying anything, we’re never listened to,” stop him and ask: “John, what do you mean by ‘never’? The last time our team offered a suggestion to the sales team, they changed how they submit their weekly numbers.”

Only once you have deliberately inoculated yourself from negativity can you can focus on overcoming negativity in others.

3. Feed the grapevine
Gossip is one of the most common tactics used by negative people, and many managers think that the best way to deal with gossip is to ignore it. Wrong! Instead, become part of it. Communicate more rather than less. The company grapevine or rumor mill is one of the most efficient forms of communication in an organization. Instead of getting frustrated by the gossip-mongering, feed the grapevine with information. When you offer truthful information, it will counteract the negative gossip that normally thrives in the grapevine.

4. Let people talk
Create forums for employees to express their opinions about workplace policies and procedures. Provide timely responses to questions and concerns. When you let people discuss issues with each other you’ll find that negativity will decrease.

5. Listen
Sometimes people just want a sounding board, a place to be respectfully listened to. Be visible, proactively schedule group discussions or town hall meetings, and provide responses to questions and concerns.

6. Be inclusive
When you communicate, be inclusive. Give people the same information at the same time. If you inadvertently give different information to different people at different points in time, it only provides fodder for the gossip mill and contributes to further negativity. So be watchful.

While these six ideas are certainly not exhaustive, they should give you food for thought to get you moving in the right direction. Negativity can be conquered, and it starts with you!

Merge Gupta-Sunderji, MBA, CSP, turns managers into leaders by giving them specific and practical how-to steps to create high-performing, productive, and positive workplaces. Contact her at or (403) 605-4756.

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