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How to Respond to Negativity in the Workplace

Posted on July 02, 2014

Nothing is more frustrating than an employee with a negative attitude. It not only affects that employee’s direct manager but can bring down an entire departments morale and performance. Negativity can happen with a single team member’s attitude or it can spread through a whole group responding to a workplace decision or event.

As a manager, you want to identify and stop this problem before it spins out of control. The office is supposed to be a stable and productive environment where employees can easily get work done without having to deal with petty issues.

First, you have to identify where all the negativity is coming from to fully understand it.

The Causes of Workplace Negativity

We’re all human here (except for maybe the office poodle—but that’s up for debate) and we react to things differently. Part of your job as manager is to understand the different personalities in your workplace and know how to guide them through difficulties. Basically: talk to them, see what’s up and try to empathize with their frustrations.

Here are some common causes of workplace negativity:

Change: Many people are resistant to change because they get used to “the way things have always been.” Having a drastic overhaul in your office, without much warning, could cause a lot of negative energy and people resisting the new practices. Hint: “deal with it” is not the best advice you can give when this becomes an issue.

Communication: Or lack of communication would be a better way to put that. Something as simple as a sloppily assigned project can cause annoyance in the office. People don’t know who belongs to what task and the whole thing snowballs into a mess of frustration.

Language: Sometimes it’s not the message you’re conveying, but how you deliver it. Responding to something with a negative or passive aggressive tone will probably get the same response back and then some. Arrogance and disregarding others input can cause communication breakdown and open contempt.

Fear: People are scared they’re going to lose their jobs if they mess up or don’t do something right the first time. This is a very good way to make your employees hate you. Generally speaking, people don’t do their best work when under extreme pressure.

How to Address Negativity

Communication is key here. If there is an issue that needs to be broached, don’t hesitate to address it. Being passive aggressive or ignoring the problem will only further damage your team and increase negativity.

There are two different ways that you can handle this: you can create a forum about this specific problem or you can talk directly to the individual(s) that it involves. When you create a problem solving meeting, it does not single out anyone and helps team build by getting through these issues together. However, this may still leave an individual(s) disgruntled. Sometimes it’s best to confront people to hear the specifics on the issue and try and create a solution.

Preventing Negativity

Stopping the problem before it starts is the best way to avoid workplace negativity (easier said than done, right.) However, if you are a positive and approachable manager you will be able to prevent these issues before they get blown out of proportion.

Things to keep in mind for maintaining a harmonious work environment:

  • When a new policy arises, talk to your employees first and get their feedback on how you can help them make this a smooth transition. Ensure everyone understands and agrees that this change is vital.
  • Constructive criticism. When someone has an idea you don’t agree with don’t shoot it down immediately as a bad idea. Consider the option and offer solutions to make it better or come to a compromise.
  • Clearly communicate all tasks of a project or assignment. Make sure your employees know they can come to you with any concerns or questions.
  • Maintain a positive attitude. If you manage with an unpleasant attitude, people are going to feed off of that.
  • And most important of all: when a problem surfaces, don’t let it just blow over. Handle the problem directly. It shows people that you care about them and want to help solve issues to make their workplace a pleasant place to be.

It all comes down to the fact that no one will get anything done in a hostile work environment. You want your employees to be happy, productive and not worrying about office politics. Don't let the negativity fester and just deal with it head on.

Do you have a certain way you deal with negativity? Let us know what works on twitter: @_Vocoli


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