Daniel Robin looks at negativism in an interesting way. A visit to his company website has given me a couple of ideas to increase positivism in an organisation.Identifying ‘negatizers’ in organisation and making use of their ideas brings positivism. Enjoy the extract I have to share with you today. A negative attitude or deed I was told could well be a positive one to have at some other time and in some other context.
One Person’s Lemon is Another’s Lemonade

Two people could approach the exact same challenge; one will swim, the other, drown.

  • The one having a tough time would filter out all the good stuff (“What good stuff?”) and pay exquisite attention to only the obstacles or difficulty. Often, this person’s reaction is more determined by their prior mood, stress, and energy levels than by the true severity of the issue. In extreme cases, the mood itself comes from habitually seeing the worst in everything – just lemons everywhere. If I pay attention to the clouds that accompany every stinking silver lining, eventually, there are only clouds.
  • The one who would swim through the adversity will have the ability to step back, define the issue, look for root cause(s), evaluate options, and take action to change it or adjust to it. Even if it’s the wrong action, any sincere attempt to resolve the situation will be better than drowning in it.
Outlook or Outbreak

Let’s make a distinction between folks who stay in the negative out of habit – a negative predisposition – and those who occasionally find something major to complain about.

If a coworker who is usually positive and upbeat goes on a momentary tirade, suddenly gets afflicted with an outbreak of “this sucks and let me tell you why,” you know it’s for a reason, and can usually be sorted out. With half an invitation to vent, out it all comes, including whose fault it is, and then magically, just like the hijacking never occurred, normal breathing resumes and the person returns to their original upright position.

But if someone has been waking up on the wrong side of their life for months (or years?), they can “poison the pond” without even noticing how it is affecting others. Indeed, when down for the count, it would be momentarily satisfying if the entire department became just as disgusted as they are. Perhaps this inspired the saying “misery deserves company.”

We’re In This Soup Together

The “negatizer” is often so unpleasant to be around that few sane people would volunteer to coach or mentor them. First instincts would be to run away screaming, give quick “fix it” advice, or tell them to seek therapy. Keeping a healthy boundary prevents their stuck-ness from spreading like a contagion. Of course, if you get hooked by or complain to a third party about this “difficult person,” yet another problem arises.

If you focus on what’s inside the “circle of influence” (and abandon what is not); it helps free up resources for rising above it.

II. Gripe to Grip

Most of the workplaces I’ve known are in a state of perpetual chaos and disrepair … they are immense and never-ending exercises in surfacing problems and (in some cases) actually solving them. By contrast, highly bureaucratic or rigid organizations simply do not allow problems (denial anyone?). However, allowing personal attacks, emotional overwhelm, or whining endlessly doesn’t help either.

There’s a balance point between chaos and order, bureaucracy and anarchy, and the key to handling problems comes from involving employees as if that negativity is stored potential for organizational improvement – as if there’s a positive intention behind even the most annoying critical comment or seemingly irrelevant complaint.

Indeed, research suggests that the human side of handling workplace negativity – skill and diplomacy with people – is even more important than the perfect business plan or strategy.

At best, skillfully dealing with negativity in others can be challenging and fun – if criticism, crankiness and complaints are shaped into a constructive forum for change. At worst, if left unstructured, such negativity can be frustrating and painful to be around.

Perhaps the goal is to complain and criticize constructively – without casting blame, without adding interpersonal friction to the catalog of work-related roadblocks – so you can get intended messages across and get breakthrough results. This column outlines a series of practical tips to get at the fun and payoff while skipping that other stuff.

Dealing with Habit Negatizers

Although people who focus on the negative to the exclusion of all else have a hard time staying employed, they do occasionally land in a workplace that happens to include you. With a reputation as a troublemaker or a complainer, they aren’t likely to be taken seriously (which, ironically, reinforces their negative predisposition). Pick a moment when they aren’t completely bent to offer these suggestions:

1. Pick the largest and most important issue, and compartmentalize the rest. Writing down all the dislikes and putting the entire list in “storage” seems to help.

2. Define the problem or issue. Perhaps this effort alone will help put things in perspective.

3. See if anyone else shares the concern. Suggest that they bounce the topic off others -preferably neutral sounding boards – before escalating or developing a proposal to management. Build constituency and avoid going to the boss solo unless the issue is personal or personnel-related. If there’s baseline support for the idea, …

4. Develop a proposal that defines the problem (with supporting evidence based more in objective fact than in opinion), and outline a goal with two or more ways to reach it.

5. Make an appointment to present and discuss the proposal and get feedback.

Encourage them to find creative ways of venting and clearing layers of frustration out of the way, first, so they don’t “poison their pond” at work. Negatizers pay a huge price for emotional seepage – far greater than they probably realize.

So, rather than griping or complaining (“You know what bugs me the most?!”), make it constructive (“With these changes, we’ll get far better results….”).

If we assume that people are already motivated to do productive work, then we need only structure the day-to-day environment and interact respectfully to unleash this vast ocean of human energy – to rise above the problems – to accomplish great things with ease.