Banishing Workplace Negativity Before It Turns into Conflict

Lets face it — as business owners, negativity in the workplace can be a little terrifying and, perhaps, feel insurmountable. Workplace negativity breeds conflict and conflict is uncomfortable and gritty. It makes the entire team feel like things could fall apart in a flash. It is important to understand that conflict is a natural part of life and business. Negativity, however, is something to avoid or correct quickly. It can poison an otherwise healthy team. 

We have all known negative people.  The ones who whisper under their breath during a meeting. The ones who seem to fight every suggestion and direction you, as the team leader, want to take them. The ones that give angry, passive aggressive responses when asked a direct question. What happens when you allow this negative energy into your company? It breeds. It grows from one employee to the next. It affects your clients, your vendors and anyone else who comes in contact with it. This does not just happen in office environments; we see it with virtual teams and telecommuters also. 

Several years ago, I had a team member who was extremely competent at her job.  She was a hard worker and I knew she was very dedicated to her job and the company, but she had very negative approach when it came to live interaction. On a few occasions I lost clients because they felt the negative energy during initial consultations. I often found myself sweeping in behind her to “make right” a situation where I felt she was particularly harsh.

See, I believe you catch more bees with honey. I praise first (employees, clients, vendors, the check out person at the grocery store) and offer advice or direction second. I try to use soft voice tones and make eye contact.  I always say please and thank you. I kept this person on my team because I knew she was a good person. I valued what she brought to the business and she was excellent at her job. In the end, however, I just couldn’t have that type of negativity representing my company. I couldn’t constantly clean up the debris that was left behind.

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When it comes to overcoming negative employees, Tricia Goss writing for Bright Hub, says it is important to understand from where the negativity comes. Goss thinks, “knowing potential reasons for employees to become stressed and distressed will help you assess the conditions of your workplace and determine appropriate solutions.”

Are you providing all of the tools necessary for your team to do their best job? Are you communicating with them enough and in the most effective way? Is their workload properly balanced? Are you extremely clear about your expectations? Are you gracious and grateful for their hard work?

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In some cases you just have negative people. If you want to avoid bringing a negative person on board, be sure to look for signs in an initial interview. Do they have a “better thought” or a sarcastic response to things discussed? Do they talk down to or about others? Negativity can come in many different forms and you want to be on the look out! Best to head this off from the get-go.

It is important that you set the stage when addressing negativity. Establish a policy within your company. Let’s call it a “no whining” policy. Everyone is working hard. Some days are good, some are bad; some clients are easy to work with, some are difficult. One thing is for sure, if an employee is complaining and putting out negative energy, it will multiply! With a “no whining” policy, your employees know right away that you don’t want to approach business with a negative attitude and they should be conscious of what they are saying and the energy they expel.

I also encourage my clients and my staff to constantly work to “reframe” their thoughts and energy. When a negative thought comes to mind, promptly take it and reframe it to be a positive thought. For example when I start to think, “Wow, I really hope these four proposals I have out book”, I quickly switch it to “I am so excited to get working on these four new clients!” I firmly believe that the energy, negative or positive, you put into the universe comes back at you – – better make it good!

So, what do you do when faced with a negative employee? How you handle negativity within your team says a lot about who you are as a boss, a person, and a company owner. First and foremost, face it head on. Do not let things fester. If there is an issue that needs to be addressed then address it as quickly as possible. We all know that letting things fester can take a small situation and turn it in to a hurricane.

If you need to confront a team member about negativity, come from a position of caring and respect. Be a good listener. You can still be the boss and hold the upper hand, but showing that you are thoughtful and truly respectful of your team members is the number one way to earn their respect and hard work. Dig a little deeper when talking to these team members. Try to identify the source of their negativity. Perhaps it is something within your control. Can you do anything to alleviate some of the stressors causing the negativity? Consider role-play.  Turn the tables on the negative team member. Let them see and feel how their negativity comes off to others. I even do this with my eleven year old daughter when those extra sassy moments arise. Often, they simply do not hear the way they sound and, therefore, cannot truly understand why people are so bothered.

Should this negativity turn into conflict, encourage everyone on your team to speak directly and quickly to the person they have an issue with. Provide a safe space for this to happen, a soft landing perhaps, someplace where everyone feels comfortable talking through their issues and concerns in a healthy manner. This approach will make the team, as a whole, stronger.

We know that dealing quickly and efficiently with negativity is important. Something that is equally, if not more, important is creating an environment for happy, healthy employees. The key to a successful team really is constantly having open lines of communication. Set the groundwork very early on in the process by letting everyone know you are always available and willing to discuss any issues they may have. Let them know that you respect where they are coming from and will always listen with an open mind. You can then work together to solve any problems that may arise.

I think that the best way to prevent negativity is to keep your team tight. Have monthly check in meetings where everyone gets to speak freely and work through any issues or concerns. Schedule team activity days to get a break from the rat-race and have a little fun. Not only is this a great stress relief, but it also builds strength and trust between team members. These activities could be anything from bowling or ropes courses to community volunteer days.

There may still be negativity, disagreements and moments of anger. This is, of course, real life.  But creating a culture that is kind, respectful, welcoming and exciting will go a long way towards avoiding negativity and having a truly exceptional team that produces the best possible results.