How to Squash Negativity at Work

Earlier this week I read Kathy Irish’s blog about annoying employee behaviors, and it inspired me to add one of my own pet peeves to the list – negativity in the workplace. It’s exhausting! Even when I’m the one being negative. But especially when I’m trying to stay positive and those around me are being negative!


Once the cycle of negativity invades a project, issue or conversation, it spirals out of control until everyone is angry, dissatisfied, unproductive or uncooperative. And if left unchecked, it can be costly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that U.S. companies lose $3 billion a year to the effects of negative attitudes and behaviors. And it’s not that difficult to see why. A handful of negative views toward the direction of a project might mean everyone involved spends far too much time arguing over how much this person doesn’t like it, how the project is pointless in their eyes, etc. Before you know it, you’ve wasted a couple hours or more just complaining and nothing’s been started yet.

Unfortunately it’s easier to be negative than it is to be positive in many work environments! Without thinking, I find myself complaining about unrealistic deadlines, assuming things will not work as planned, getting frustrated when a customer makes changes to their content and so on. Maybe some of this sounds familiar to you? Are you guilty of perpetuating the negativity cycle?

As someone who often loses my rose-colored glasses, I’ve come up with other ways to keep an optimistic and positive mindset.

I’ve found two exercises that are effective for me to keep a positive attitude. First, in those instances when, without thinking, I spout out one complaint or some negative comment, I force myself to say two positive things about the same situation. I realize that sounds cheesy or seems like something we might tell our kids to do, but it works. It helps retrain the mind to view tough situations from a positive point of view instead of a negative. Ideally, I’ll begin to default to the positive rather than the negative. For me, it’s easy to continue the negativity by saying two sarcastically positive things, but that’s not the point! Sometimes it takes me several minutes to actually think of the positive thing to say, but that’s time well spent if the end goal is a bit brighter.

The other exercise is something really revolutionary that I thought of – breathing. Sometimes the best solution for not reacting with instant negativity is to breathe. In the most extreme cases, maybe I need to breathe AND walk away. I save that for when I’m on the verge of flipping out. Again, I know it sounds silly to tell someone just to stop and breathe, but it really works. You don’t have to count backwards from ten, or anything, you just need to breathe deep and push that negative haze away.

And those are just examples of how I’m trying to keep myself away from negativity. Now how do I handle co-workers that are being negative?

The hardest part about handling negativity is to confront someone whose negativity is hindering productivity. It’s important to discuss the issue privately and address specific instances when their attitude impacted the project. Then ask the employee to share any irritations or unresolved issues. Knowing you are working to resolve them can help provide some relief. Once working through the issue at hand, provide examples of how you would prefer the team member to handle their negativity in the future. The important part is you ensure they understand that in the future you expect them to perform their duties without complaining or arguing.

At the end of the day, squashing negativity at work isn’t easy. It’s a battle that takes time and needs to be addressed as professionally as possible. Whether you’re trying to keep your own negative thoughts in check or manage someone else’s, it must be dealt with. Otherwise it’s like a virus that continues to spread throughout the entire organization, cripples the company culture and damages productivity.