Dealing with Negativity…

I tend to be a tough sell. Send me a salesperson to convince me why I should buy something and I’ll likely send you back a “no thank you.” Why? Well, if I thought I needed it, I would have bought it already, right? I’m the same way with advertisements. I simply am not an impulse buyer. I can throw mail advertisements in the trash faster than you can say “2-for-1 deal!” But this morning… I cracked. As I was eating breakfast, I looked over and saw a newly received copy of a popular product magazine. Disinterested, as usual, I began to turn away when something caught my attention… the words, “Your WISH LIST Headquarters!” There was something about those words “wish list.” I looked at them for a second and thought, “you know, maybe I need a wish list!” The next thing you know, I am thumbing through a magazine that I’ve thrown away more times than I can count. Ah, the power of suggestion.

Negativity in any workplace or organization works much the same way. Even in a positive environment, negativity can weasel its way in, little by little, by way of nothing more than a suggestion. It only takes one negative or disgruntled team member to start the cycle; One individual unhappy about his or her situation. This person becomes verbal with other team members about their unhappiness. The next thing you know, even a happy and contented team member can think, “you know, maybe I’m NOT happy… maybe I should be bothered by this too!” If this type of negativity is not dealt with swiftly and decisively, any team or organization can implode.

As Leaders, we need to be able to quickly identify these “cells” of negativity and immediately analyze them and ask some specific questions:

1. Is this a legitimate concern that is, or has begun, going “viral,” or is it simply a result of a negative individual or group that is cultivating negativity?

2. Is my leadership, or lack thereof, a contributing factor to this problem? If so, what am I going to do about it? (leaders, always keep your mirror handy!)

3. If this is not a leadership issue, it will become one very quickly if you don’t deal with the situation. Allowing cells of negativity to grow after they are identified is a leadership problem. Deal with the individual or group promptly and make it clear that this type of negative attitude will not be tolerated.

4. If the source of the negativity is borne out of a genuine concern or issue, identify the cause for concern promptly and fix it. Coach your team on effective ways to communicate concerns with managers and supervisors, who can then take those concerns to those above them so they can be dealt with accordingly. When “concerns” are communicated through gossip, as opposed to being communicated through the proper channels, your team is likely going to begin spiraling out of control. The longer a gossiping trend is allowed to continue, the more difficult it is to correct.

Leaders have to train themselves and their team members to constantly fight against the cells of negativity. It takes practice and perseverance, but it can result in teamwork that is better than you could have drawn up on any “wish list.” 🙂

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