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Negativity is a downer. It emotionally deflates you and those around you. It does nothing to help performance.

Some groups seem to thrive on negativity – lunch mates who spend an hour a day gossiping, for example. You gain brownie points in that situation for being caustic and critical. It can be enticing, difficult to escape and toxic for our attitude.

Consultant David Dye says learning how to be less negative will make you more effective.

“When your team or supervisor thinks of you as a negative person, you’re less likely to be invited to conversations where you would have valuable contributions to make. You’re less likely to receive recognition for your work and your odds of promotion go down. If you often hear that you’re too negative, learning how to be less negative is a critical skill to master – and fast,” Mr. Dye wrote on his blog.

Often that negative reputation arises from how you respond to new ideas, notably from your boss. They have what they consider an attractive notion to consider. You immediately start lobbing grenades. You may be right in your concerns, but it comes across as negative, negative, negative.

To some extent, this is a clash of personalities as much as power and attitudes. Mr. Dye suggests you may be a “get things done” person, eager to push back the roadblocks that immediately come to mind. Your boss may be an ideas person, cherishing the chance to explore and build on ideas rather than have their creativity and energy crushed before those ideas can breathe. Or they may be a relationship person and you jumping straight to problems feels harsh and disrespectful.

Mr. Dye recommends three shifts in your behaviour:

  • First, affirm: Help idea people feel heard and relationship people feel connected. Find something interesting, fun or positive about the idea and say that first: “That’s a creative way of looking at this” or “Wow, that’s interesting, I hadn’t looked at it that way.”
  • Present problems as solutions: Share your challenges or concerns, but instead of stating them as problems, present them as solutions or opportunities. For example: “That’s a great idea; here are three things we can do to make sure it succeeds.”
  • Take your temperature: Before you speak, assess how you are feeling. If you’re tired and frustrated, see if you can pause and not respond immediately. He suggests: “I appreciate you bringing this up – and, I am exhausted and trying to solve three things at once right now. I want to make sure I give your idea the positive attention it warrants. Can we talk tomorrow morning?”

According to Consultant Liz Kislik, our negativity sometimes becomes focused on ourselves.

“It can be useful to be self-questioning and to prepare for all kinds of potential challenges. But disproportionate or persistent negativity can eventually take a toll on our coworkers, our families, our psyches and our long-term physical health,” Ms. Kislik wrote on her blog.

She recommends:

  • Put yourself on pause: Sometimes you need to walk away from whatever you’re doing and take a break so you can think more clearly and realistically.
  • Focus on what’s working before thinking of what’s not working: When you feel yourself spiralling into negativity with a “but” for every new idea, take time to reflect on everything that’s going reasonably well.
  • Check your expectations: “If you’re feeling worn down by just how impossible your plans are, check in with your boss, a colleague or yourself to see what would be a good enough result. Refocus on a result that would satisfy the requirements even if it is not perfect in every single aspect,” she advises.

Some workplace gurus herald the importance of positivity. But these measures are not so much lessons in positivity as guardrails for negativity, seeking a better balance.

Quick hits

  • When someone rejects you for a job, they’re not rejecting you. “How could they be? They don’t know you,” observes entrepreneur Seth Godin. “Instead, they’re rejecting their story of you, the best approximation they had.” Begin the hard work of telling a different, better story.
  • To wake up smiling, life coach Emilie Pelletier scans the day as she goes to sleep and recalls all the positive things – even tiny ones – that occurred.
  • If your sales team is overwhelmed by the volume of changes you are requiring of them, they will revert to what they know and do best, Ottawa sales coach Colleen Francis warns. Limit the changes you are implementing to one or two at a time.
  • When productivity writer Robin Copple set out to find the perfect to-do app, he narrowed it down to TickTick and Todoist, opting for the latter, which was slicker and cleaner than when he had tried it in the past.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.

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