10 Simple Steps to Reducing Negativity At Work

Modern workplaces can be stressful – lots of work, pressing deadlines, people issues and working extra hours to name a few – and stress can easily lead to negativity.

If you’re experiencing negativity at work – whether it’s coming from somebody else or from within yourself – you can take steps to change it. It often takes patience and practice because negativity can be a habit but, as you’d know, habits can be changed!

It’s entirely possible to reduce negativity and help make your workplace a happier place for everybody.

Here are 10 simple steps to help you get started today…

1. Take an honest look at yourself. Are you spreading negativity? It’s normal to sometimes to feel discouraged, overwhelmed, jealous or angry at work. The trick is to become aware of when you’re sharing how you feel to try to make yourself feel better. By telling everyone how bad you feel, you can easily become a happiness sapper and source of tension for the people you work with. Try to be a positive companion where possible.

2. Step up your self-care. Stress can lead to negativity and if you’re under stress, you’ll have lots of stress hormones in your body. That means physical self care is crucial. Eating well, physical activity and adequate sleep all help to reduce the toll of stress hormones and are proven to improve your mood.

3. Engage your curiosity. When something or someone doesn’t do what was expected, don’t get angry or upset. Approach it like a puzzle. What parts of it went right? Where was the pitfall? How could you use this knowledge for future planning?

4. Refocus your energy onto what’s strong and less on what’s wrong. That could be particular people, a process, a relationship; anything that is strong and working well. A strengths-based focus is proven to boost wellbeing.

5. Find and give support. Research shows that having a trusted friend at work is crucial to being happy and resilient to stress. Invest time and energy into positive relationships at work.

6. Challenge negative thoughts. Sometimes negative thoughts are justified but more often they come from our internal fears or lack of confidence. Ask yourself “what would I tell a friend who was feeling this way?”. Coach yourself – or others- into taking a balanced and realistic view.

7. Reassure when change seems threatening. When uncertainty comes up, be friendly and kind – whether it’s to yourself or others. We all need encouragement from time to time.

8. Create a sense of meaning. Finding a way to connect your work to what is meaningful to you can help you to take a bigger view and remain positive in challenging times.

9. Let go of how things were “supposed to be” and accept “how things are.” Management or others might not act in the way you believe they should. Systems and processes might suck. That’s normal. To keep these things from stressing you and making you negative, find some appreciation in ‘what is’.

10. Keep things in perspective. Or try on a new perspective. Getting get stuck in negative thinking patterns will only create a downward spiral of emotions for yourself and those around you. Stay realistic, avoid comparisons, and take a longer view.

Action Steps

Which will you use TODAY to help reduce negativity in yourself and/or others?


The Courage of Transparency

It happens in every business, at some point. A manager oversteps the mark and the robustness of the internal complaints system is tested. It might be that murky area when legitimate performance management action becomes workplace bullying or perhaps one of the several forms of discrimination. What happens next reveal insights into leadership and culture in that workplace. Hopefully, the policies and procedures are clear and up to date. We also need to trust that those governing the system are trained, experienced and know their roles.

Over coming weeks, everything is done by the book. Tension might be high, but the system works and the case against the errant manager is proven. Penalties are applied, including perhaps a termination of employment. This is the way it should be. Justice has to be done and be seen to be done. We then typically move on as quickly as possible.

When these incidents occur (and your next one may be only days away) how many of us undertake any form of post investigation review to understand the origins or wider impacts of this behaviour. How many were aware of the behaviour and looked the other way? Why did it take a courageous victim to subject themselves to the formal process before anybody acted?

People in organisations who behave inappropriately, particularly those who behave aggressively, understand that the likelihood of them being called to account is low. Sometimes they imitate behaviour that they have witnessed in the workplace previously. Critically, when post incident reviews are conducted, we find that too many people knew what was happening but chose not to act. Unfortunately, some of those who looked away will have been in positions of seniority. And that signals an organisational culture that is in deep trouble.

Australian corporate culture is a reflection of wider Australian culture. We like to give people a ‘fair go’; we don’t like ‘dobbers’. Much of this is deeply connected to our colonial history. But this backward looking justification for poor behaviour has no place in the 21st century workplace.

Businesses need their employees to be as productive as possible as often as possible. If a workplace aggressor roams the office unchecked and unchallenged, then the short term impact on productivity and long term impact on organisational culture is disastrous. Waiting for them to transgress to a point of no return is a sure fire way to drive away great employees.

Organisational leaders carry a reasonable expectation that employees are productive and achievement focused. To achieve this, the support they provide to their employees in times of high anxiety must be demonstrative. The conclusion of an investigation into inappropriate workplace behaviour (regardless of the outcome) is one of these times and should be the trigger for an open and transparent review of what is really going on out on the shop floor.

Don’t miss your moment.


The Power of Trust

There are times in your career when things just seem to fall into place. The team you work with gets along well, the work may be challenging but rewarding and results are good. Getting up each day and going to work is fun. You look forward to it and most days are energising.

Does this sound familiar? Maybe that time is right now, or maybe it was some time back and you feel like it may never return. For me, there have been three times across a 25 year career that stand out.

In my work with clients, I make a point of discussing this with them. I ask them to reconstruct their best workplace experiences (I’m talking about experiences across extended timeframes: months or even years…not just a few days or weeks). Over time, clear themes have emerged. Just as importantly, there are potential reasons which are almost always absent.

First the things that aren’t important:

  • The company you work for. That’s right, who you actually work for plays a very small, almost irrelevant role in determining workplace happiness.
  • The pay and conditions, although there is a caveat on that statement. There are minimum standards to everything. Pay and conditions are hygiene issues and must be respected by the employer, lest they act like submerged icebergs and disaster awaits. And,
  • The work itself. This may be more difficult to believe, but in constructive and high performing work teams, that actual job performed plays only a small part in long term workplace happiness and engagement. The mission may be incredibly important and can be a critical driver of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, but long term there are few (if any) differences across groups in the things that they describe as important, regardless of the work performed.

So what is important, and what makes a work experience truly memorable?

Competence – feeling competent to do your job and knowing those around you are competent and capable of doing theirs.

Control – Having the autonomy to get the work done and enough certainty that conditions are not going to change in the short term to negatively impact on getting things done.

But the biggest factor of all:

Trust – In each other and in those who lead. When trust is high, extraordinary things happen. Trust is empowering and enables smart risk taking. In high trust environments, status is respected but does not overwhelm and decisions are made in a spirit of fairness. In high trust environments, people are not placed into a “threat state”. Powerfully, there is a sense that we are watching each other’s backs and we close ranks and jointly problem solve when challenges emerge.

With careful investment in culture and leadership development, these conditions can be created in any organisation, but they never just happen by accident.

Celebrating Your Progress

Do you sometimes find yourself thinking that you’ll be happier when some big things in your life change for the better?

Or that some particular event has to happen and THEN you’ll feel more content?

In our culture we’re conditioned to focus on end results – the gold star for finishing a task in kindergarten, the end of term report card during high school, the praise (hopefully!) at the end of a big project at work.

The problem is, often that means we’re putting all our hopes and attention on something in the future.

We assume that when that happens, everything in our life will fall into place and we’ll have a perfect life.

That’s like not watching a movie until the final moments!

Research shows that the happiest people are grounded in the present. Sure they take heed of the past and look forward to the future, but they mainly immerse themselves in today.

Other studies show that taking time to savour the good things in life – including celebrating large and small achievements –  increases positive feelings and a sense of wellbeing.

So here’s how you can celebrate your professional and personal progress this week and enjoy the sense of pride, satisfaction and wellbeing that comes from that.

Action Steps

Rather than relentlessly zooming towards your end goals, take some time to look back and see how far you’ve come in different areas of your life.

It’s as simple as these three steps:

1. Stop to notice

Make a point of stopping to notice where your life is right now. If you go through life rushing around and going in a dozen directions, it’s hard to savour the moment.

2. Pause to appreciate the progress you have made

Pick any point in your past and reflect on how things have changed since that time. What have you learned? What relationships have you built since then? Even if the changes haven’t always been positive, I guarantee that you will have learned some valuable personal lessons from them.

3. Enjoy the journey as well as the destination

Be proud of all your step-by-step accomplishments and achievements on the way to your goals. Enjoy the small moments as well as the big ones.

Spending time to celebrate your professional and personal progress gives you the opportunity to feel proud and grateful for the progress you’ve made. This will, in turn, make you feel happier both in the moment and for a lingering time afterward.

Has this happened to you too?

I ran into a former colleague the other day, at a local cafe. Haven’t seen him in over five years. He’s a lovely man, old enough to be my father yet we get along really well. We ended up standing next to the coffee pick-up area for quite some time, talking about all manner of things while people came and went around us. I really enjoyed reconnecting with him. It gave me a boost for the rest of the day.

It also got me thinking…

How many people do we meet at work and get along with really well, yet lose contact with after we or they leave the job?

There have been quite a few for me over the years. It’s so easy to move on and never get around to catching up, even when we have the best of intentions.

It’s such a shame when this happens. It’s a lost opportunity. These relationships often have the potential to grown into something new outside of the workplace if we just give them a chance by making some effort at the beginning.

Research shows time and again that our relationships are crucial to our wellbeing and the happiest people have the widest social circles.

Positive social connections help us feel happy, make us feel connected and cared about, and help us when times get tough.

Action Steps

As you’d know, good friends can be hard to come by, so I encourage you to consider…

Do you have former work colleagues who used to bring joy into your life that you’ve lost contact with?

Think about sending them a text, email or LinkedIn connection to say hi. It might be the start of a wonderful new friendship outside of work!

How to Handle Disagreements at Work in Positive & Healthy Ways

Psychology research tells us that for healthy relationships – and therefore a healthy workplace – we need five times as many positive experiences as negative ones.

The challenge then becomes, how do we have positive and healthy disagreements at work, where you’re not afraid to express your opinion and not threatened by others disagreeing with you?

We all hope that everybody will work together in harmony and disagreements won’t occur. Of course that’s only possible, if everyone’s on the same page about how to create a healthy work culture and is willing to think and care about those around them as much as themselves.

In the absence of that, here’s my recommendation:

“Be the change you want to see in the world”

By that I mean change your own actions and reactions when you disagree with something or someone. This will then change the way situations unfold around you as well as model positive work behaviour.

Disagreements are situations where it can be difficult to stay stay positive but where doing so can make you resilient to stress while also keeping positive relationships at work.

Action Steps

Here are 7 tips for handling disagreements in positive and healthy ways…

1. Stay calm. If you feel yourself getting too heated, ask ‘can we work through this later?’ and see if you can set a time to come back to it. Calm down and address the situation later. After cooling off, you’ll likely be more rational about the issue you’re trying to work out.

2. Stay on topic. Don’t bring in all the other things that are or have been issues. That will just inflame things.

3. Attack the issue, not the person. Don’t personalise things by using words like ‘you have’ or ‘you always’ or any other personal words. Don’t call them names. Stay respectful and issue focused.

4. Listen to what the other person has to say. Let the other person finish what they’re saying. As renowned author Steven Covey says “Seek first to understand, then to be understood’.

5. Try to discover a win-win way forward where everyone walks away satisfied. It’s not always possible but try to use some creativity in finding solutions.

6. Think about the seriousness of the issue. Will it really matter later on?

7. Agree to disagree if you can’t come to a resolution. Then emotionally unhook from it even if you haven’t achieved what you wanted. Don’t hold a grudge, it will only hurt your wellbeing, not theirs.

Disagreements don’t have to be ugly, stressful or mean. Healthy disagreements can even strengthen rather than weaken your relationships.

If you disagree in a positive manner, you’ll be able to keep positive relationships, maintain your own mental and emotional wellbeing and be a positive role model in your workplace.

Which one of these approaches will you focus on next time a disagreement comes up?