Friday, November 15, 2013

The River of Negativity

Recently, I was asked if I could share my views and feelings on how to counter workplace negativity.  It is a topic that hits home for me.  I have had the fortune of working in environments where there have been very strict rules with very prescriptive consequences, as well as environments where there have been very fluid rules.

As I pondered this, it was apparent that I did not have a magic formula that has led to a lack of negativity in my current environment. I did realize the following though:
  • Change breeds negative thoughts
  • Negativity without a proper outlet festers and becomes a culture
  • Culture determines employee engagement and ultimate satisfaction
  • Employee engagement and satisfaction contributes to customer satisfaction
  • Customer satisfaction is synonymous with the customer experience
  • Customers typically will not speak highly of products and services that they have a negative experience with
  • Organizations lose customers as a result of negative customer experiences
How can negativity in the workplace be combated?   Taking a look at the above simplistic negativity flow, it is easiest to combat negativity before it even is allowed to manifest itself.  As a leader, you have to take negativity out at its knees.  Here are some strategies that have worked.
  • Ensure that change is communicated in a timely manner.
  • Encourage staff to ask questions and follow-up on their concerns.
  • Engage staff where they are, not where you think they are
  • Inspect what you expect, but don't micro-manage
  • Allow for midstream adjustments as not all changes or decisions deploy as envisioned
  • Don't hide from decisions.  Be visible and approachable
  • Provide status updates as to how change is progressing, even acknowledging learning opportunities
  • Recognize staff whenever possible
  • Celebrate milestones and accomplishments, no matter how small
Much of what is mentioned above are things you see talked about in books, articles, training classes, etc.  I can attest from experience that the first list can become your reality, if you don't adopt items from the second list.

What changes do you have planned?  Hopefully this post provides some nuggets to assist you successfully avoid workplace negativity by eliminating it before it has a chance to take hold. If it exists in your environment today, know that the course of negativity can be reversed through focusing on items in the second list, primarily through being visible, approachable, communicating, and taking the time to recognize positive outcomes, no matter how small.  Most importantly, have fun!

Have a great week!


  1. Hi Mark, All that is true. It really is in our grasp to be positive and to help others to be as well. Although I've known these things and have heard them before, it never hurts to be reminded.

  2. Mark you are so right about the importance of communicating change early and I would add, often. The more information you provide to employees, the better. Even if all you can say is, "I don't know, but will try to find out." it can make a tremendous difference to how they react and how engaged they are in your organization going forward.

    My own organization has undergone tremendous change over he last five years moving from massive technology changes to radical service process changes and you can easily tell the change that happened with full communications and the change that happened without it.

  3. I agree that effective communication is key, though I'm always puzzled at how folks define communication. For example, you can 50 emails flying back and forth and yet in the end have communicated nothing. So it helps if people are on the same page in understanding communication has two parts... talk and listen. The latter. is of course, the most important.

  4. Good suggestions, Mark. However, is it possible to root out negativity completely? Most likely not since it's part of human nature. We had to protect ourselves against dangers and even if society has changed we still sometimes react like as if a wild animal is about to attack us. So it's more a question of accepting that the only thing that's certain in life is uncertainty.

  5. The necessity for midstream adjustments matters so much. What usually happened in a school setting is being told about the new "trend" teachers are supposed to implement, it doesn't go as planned, and then a few months later that new plan is dead in the water. I saw it happen over and over and over again....

  6. This is a subject that hits close to home. I have had to deal with workplace negativity and even when trying to be positive the negative people always try to find a way to bring you down. Our office was a small office but full of gossip and a lack of leadership. There was no change and our regional office didn't care. I had to make a change and that was to leave.

  7. Negativity in any environment is a waste of energy. There will always be some around, but working to quell the negativity is definitely worth trying for.