Workplace Negativity -- Signs, Causes & Cures

workplace negativityWorkplace negativity is always high in organizations that fail -- and can be nearly nonexistent in companies that succeed! Workplace negativity goes far beyond the walls of the office or cubicle. It permeates attitudes, and attitudes drive behaviors, and behaviors drive outcomes.

Workplace negativity affects customer relationships, follow-through, urgency, peaked awareness, energy and motivation. There is no way to achieve a competitive advantage when your employees' negative attitudes infiltrate all they do.

The Signs

In negative workplace environments, people present in meetings tend to have a defensive and protective tone. There is a real lack of transparency. Employees jealously guard their only source of (perceived) power -- their distinctive experience -- and the team is driven apart. In these meetings, people look bored, rarely smile, infrequently make eye contact and infrequently contribute.

When a difficult employee decides to hold back and passively resist engagement, their goal is to make others in the room uncomfortable enough to back off as well. This passive-aggressive behavior leads other employees or team members to disengage. And disengaged employees are outright damaging to organizations because when disengaged, the company has a lack of critical opinions, a lack of strategic thoughts, and a lack of creative ideas or solutions. Together, this is the kiss of death!

When workplace negativity is present, there is a lack of critical opinions, strategic thoughts and creative ideas. There is also quite a bit of dominating behavior, judgment and accusation. There's also very little risk-taking.

The Causes

There are several causes of negative behavior in the workplace:

Engrained "old culture": A company's culture reflects the morale of its people, and the decisions, communications, mistakes and victories that a company experiences over a long period of time. Implementing a major corporate culture change is one of the hardest challenges. Often, senior managers who have been with the company for years (and have perhaps been promoted to their position from a former one within the company) practice strongly entrenched, cultural patterns.

Lack of accountability: Honest communication is the glue that holds together strong, successful relationships. In this case, honest communications must take place between leaders and team members or management and employees. By discussing and evaluating what causes momentum to be disrupted, management and employees can develop together the necessary solutions.

'Round Here Thinking: It's defined as the belief (followed by behaviors) that a specific process, solution or plan will not work "here." It won't work "here" because, in this mindset, "here" is unique and different and does not operate like any "there" in the world.

The Cures

Here are some strategies for overcoming workplace negativity that can be applied in companies ranging from Fortune 500 corporations to small businesses:

  • Give employees a reason to care. The key to this one is to get your team engaged by finding out what matters to them. This can also be supported through a bonus mechanism (awards for most sales, an employee going beyond the call of duty, etc.)
  • Conduct listening round-robins. In round-robin sharing of ideas in a group, each participant has 30 seconds to update top three priorities for that week. It's a technique to ensure that all members have a voice and that those who might otherwise monopolize a conversation do not limit anyone else's opportunities to participate. This promotes accountability and clarity publicly.
  • Get your team committed to the company mission: What good are a vision, mission, values and goals if nobody sticks to them?
  • Adopt a "No one succeeds until everyone succeeds" culture.
  • Modeling collaboration starts at the top.
  • Be a hall of fame team leader. A strong team leader can make all the difference. He or she can usually get everyone to focus on the agenda, serve as a catalyst for problem solving, function as a connector, listen seriously and show it, attract diverse talent, invite disagreement, instill work with greater meaning and purpose, and embody communications charisma.

Achieving goals takes drive, determination and focused persistence. Workplace negativity will get in the way of achieving your goals. Make sure that your employees operate with excitement, purpose, passion and creativity. In high-performance teams, leaders and team members collaborate freely, demonstrate no barriers or judgments against each other and willingly accept the thoughts and opinions offered by one another.

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