7 Tips for Managing Negativity

In just about any organization, negativity is toxic.

Sure, everybody gets caught up in some type of workplace negativity from time to time. That’s just part of the challenges and emotions that come with being human. But managers have to up their game when it comes to negativity. The task falls on them to stop negativity from impacting productivity and morale.

So how can you curtail negativity in the workplace?

Tip 1: Catch negativity early

Many situations can trigger a negative attitude: a heavy workload, a personality clash, or just everyday work stress. Be aware and look for early signs of negativity. Complaining, hopelessness, uncertainty, and feelings of frustration or hostility toward management are all warning signs.

But remember: these are just signs of negativity. They are the outward indication something deeper is going on. It is your job as a manager to figure out what the true issue is and how to respond.

Tip 2: Have a talk

This might be with an individual or  a team. The point of the talk is not to lay blame -- that only makes people more defensive and increases the negativity. No, the point of the talk is to begin moving toward a different way of acting. To do this, you must make an effort to listen to, and understand, the concerns of those involved. Then help them see the reality of the situation. If necessary, you might need to tell them you have no tolerance for negativity at work.

Tip 3: Cite specific behaviors

When you bring the issue of negativity to someone’s attention, don’t use blanket generalizations. That will send you down the path of endless debate. Instead, bring up specific examples of behaviors that need to be stopped. This will help them understand the direct impact of their actions.

Tip 4: Allow time to respond

When confronted about our attitude or behavior, we get defensive. It’s natural. So expect some push back. In fact, use that defensiveness to your advantage. This is when employees are most likely to be open and honest about what's really bothering them. So give them time to complain, and make sure you listen. Try not to get defensive yourself or react based on emotion.

Tip 5 : Listen to understand

Just as you shouldn’t respond right away from emotion, you also must not be building your case while the person is talking. Really listen to the complaints. There’s a good chance the employee is seeing the situation from a different point of view, possibly with a perspective you missed. This is an opportunity for you to learn, too. 

Tip 6: Set some ground rules

Having an exchange is a positive and necessary step. But it is not enough to eliminate future negativity. To do that, you need to use that discussion as a springboard in setting some ground rules.

For example, you should have ground rules stating that gossip and spreading negative opinions are not acceptable. Then develop some alternative courses of action for when they encounter or experience negativity in the future. And for these policies to have any teeth, there needs to be consequences associated with spreading negativity.

Tip 7: Learn to manage your own negativity

Again, everyone has negative moments. But the better you manage your own negative impulses, the easier it will be to keep a positive work culture.

Managing negativity is a crucial “soft skill” that any good manager needs. Our video library has an entire course on managing negativity that tackles that issue.

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