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Dealing with workplace negativity in a positive way

27th April 2015

I read an interesting article in the Huffington Post this week by psychology expert Lisa Firestone, about the “Secret to Well Being.”

Whilst there are a ton of laudable traits we should ALL ideally embrace in order reach this nirvana of well-being, and attain a Dalai Lama level of goodness, what can we do to manage workplace negativity when it happens? How can we manage it with the zen-like wisdom of the Dalai Lama, coupled with the business acumen of one of the world’s best-performing CEOs?

From my point of view, I think there are some straightforward, super practical and highly deliverable approaches we can all take in the workplace to manage negativity.

You know that frustrating feeling when someone in your team always seems to point out why ideas won’t work. Their ‘wet blanket’ way of stating their opinion sucks the life out of meetings and stifles everyone’s enthusiasm.

If you are a manager or team leader, you need to stop this, but you also know you don’t want to communicate to this person that their opinion doesn’t matter or that dissent is unwelcome.

These top 5 tips show you how to deal with the situation and get your message across:-

  1. Name the game

While term ‘Game’ sometimes refers to some type of manipulation or hidden agenda that you need to address, in this case it simply means the recurring behaviour pattern you want to address. When you do, you want to:-

  • Describe the behaviour you’re talking about in concrete terms, so the person knows explicitly what you’re referencing. Use a specific, recent example as a launching point.
  • State that the recent instance is part of an ongoing pattern – give some other examples as well.

“Your behaviour is negatively affecting me, the team, the business…and your value as an employee.”

  1. Assume Positive Intent

Often people whom we experience as ‘negative’ are actually trying to be helpful. They want to prevent others from making what they see as a serious mistake. They just express their concern and perspective in unpleasant, off-putting ways.

If we simply criticise their approach and don’t acknowledge their positive intent, they’re likely to feel like their concerns and opinions are unwelcome.  If they get this message, they will care a little – or a lot – less about contributing in the future.

They will have less ‘emotional skin in the game.’ Thus, it’s important to acknowledge the value their perspective and involvement can bring – if they can communicate it effectively.

“I DO want you to speak up when you have a different point of view.”

“I need you to learn how to say your point of view in a more inviting way, though.”

  1. Prevent Misunderstanding

Explain what you’re NOT saying or intending.

This is excellent advice because it helps you to prevent possible misunderstandings and by so doing, prevent the other person from becoming defensive.

Don’t try to solve or fix them. Just aim to help them now.

I DO value perspectives that can see the potential downside of ideas. That is a skill of yours I don’t want to lose.”

  1. Ask if they understand

After they bring up an issue, many managers want to jump straight into asking the other person, “OK…so what should we do about this?”

If the other person doesn’t understand what you’re talking about, it’s pretty hard to have a productive conversation about possible solutions and an action plan.

  1. Ask for their perspective

They might understand what you’re saying but see it very differently. If they disagree with your perception or assessment, how committed will they be to solving the problem?

Think of when someone describes a situation in a way that you disagree with – and didn’t ask for or listen to your perspective. How did you feel then?

They just pushed ahead regardless. Think of how angry, resentful and misunderstood you felt. So, make sure that you ask for their perspective.

Want to read the rest of the Top Tips for dealing with negativity in a positive way?

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