Susy Roberts, 19th May 2017
Evidence from the European Journal of Work and Organisational Psychology has shown that people who complain about negative events in the workplace suffer the consequences of those events more and for longer.
I couldn’t agree more. I strongly believe that you can choose to take a positive or negative view in any situation. As a leader, if you take the path of positivity, everyone who works with you is going to be far more motivated and driven – even when things are going wrong.
In a crisis, leadership determines the extent of any potential damage. A positive leader who takes the opportunity to learn from mistakes will drive progress. They’ll ensure negativity about what did and didn’t go wrong doesn’t fester. They’ll encourage cooperation, and the team won’t be afraid to examine their own actions to see where things went wrong.
Those who rule in a climate of fear of reprisal will be saddled with a team of people who are afraid to push boundaries because they’re scared of what might go wrong should they fail. They’ll stick within their comfort zones because they believe – correctly – that there will be negative consequences if they don’t.
There are many ways that negativity in the workplace impacts on output. It can take 20 minutes to re-focus on a task if you’ve stopped to complain about it, so a team of unhappy people constantly criticising procedures can severely impact productivity.
It’s not just leaders who can bring down the mood. A single person who constantly criticises and complains, regardless of their position in the hierarchy, will pull people down with them. They’re thought saboteurs, and it’s critical to ensure that this behaviour is identified and dealt with before it has an impact on the whole team.
How? As a leader, you need to recognise the challenges people face and understand what’s making them negative. Talk to them, ask them how they feel, and assure them that their feelings are valid and important. Encourage an atmosphere where people are happy to speak up about problems – whether they’re personal or work-related – and show them that you will take them seriously.
It’s not just leaders who can make a difference. If you have a colleague who constantly brings you down, talk to them. Tell them that their attitude is having an impact on your own work, and ask them if there’s something that you can help with. Often, people simply want the opportunity to be honest. They may have come from a culture where they were punished for speaking out, so they’re nervous about sticking their head above the parapet. Challenge the behaviour – tactfully – and you may just find a sense of relief that they’re being listened to, rather than defensiveness.
Of course, there are some people who simply don’t fit within the workplace culture, and no amount of tact or diplomacy will resolve what are probably much more deep-seated issues. In those cases, these people must be managed out.
Not everyone can be 100% happy 100% of the time, but constant negativity is not appropriate in the workplace. When things go wrong, you need a good structure in place in order to be able to deal with them, and a culture that encourages everyone to embrace solutions rather than focus on mistakes.
It’s the positive path to take.
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