Down with Workplace Negativity! Up with Workplace Engagement!

March 9, 2016 Kelli Dobrin

Originally published by The Water Cooler

Years ago, Bing Crosby sang, “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and don’t mess with mister in between.” Not bad advice. The trouble is that many of our workplaces do just the opposite.

A common complaint on the job is, “You can do a hundred things right and not hear a darn thing about it. Do one thing wrong, and they’re right on your back.”

It’s no wonder there’s such a strong negative sentiment and a lack of engagement among so many workers today.

You can see it everywhere. Go into the hallways, lunchroom, or work area, and you’ll hear people whining, griping, and complaining about something at work.  The light has gone out in their eyes, and a sense of routine has replaced their passion.

So, what can you do to eliminate workplace negativity and increase workplace engagement? There are two things: you can make sure you are not adding to the negativity, and you can challenge the negativity of others.

Of course, it’s always easier to point out what “they” are doing wrong. But as difficult as it may be to admit, sometimes “you” need to change as well. After all, you are not a neutral. You’re either making your organization a richer or poorer place to work.

Where should you start?


If You’re a Negative Contributing Factor

 1. Look at your words.

Can you go for 24 hours without saying anything negative? Most people can’t, and that’s a serious problem. If you can’t go 24 hours without drinking alcohol, you’re addicted to alcohol. If you can’t go 24 hours without smoking, you’re addicted to nicotine. And if you can’t go 24 hours without saying something unkind, you’re addicted to negativity. If you think you might be a bit too negative, then you need to…

2. Realize the price you’re paying for staying too negative.

In a study done at Duke University Medical Center, it was discovered that people with high levels of cynical, complaining behaviors were 50% more likely to have clogged arteries than those who were less negative.  In another study, people with high cynicism scores had five times more heart disease than those who scored below the median. Quite simply, complainers do not live as long as positive people. And while they’re alive, they make the work environment so much more difficult.

So, how do you get rid of that negative behavior?

3. Quit keeping track of the negatives.
Did you ever notice that on a bad day, some people tend to count every irritation or inconvenience that occurs? They’ll burst out with something like, “That’s the third time today something like this has happened.” Yet seldom on a good day do these people say, “This is the third time today something great has happened.” Keeping track of the negatives and continually talking about them prevents engagement.

4. Look for and report the positives. 
More often than not, there are more good things going on at work than bad things.  Indeed, if everything was bad, the company would probably be out of business.  So, look for things you can celebrate rather than things to denigrate. Once you’ve examined yourself and any contributing negatives you add to the workplace, you have a right and responsibility to challenge others who may be lowering the workplace engagement.  Try these strategies.


If the Other Guy is a Negative Contributing Factor

 1. Challenge the negative remarks of others. 

You’ve heard the expression, “It’s too good to be true.” In most cases, that’s exactly the case. In a similar sense, when you hear someone go on and on about how bad things are at work, simply tell him or her, “It’s too bad to be true.” You will likely be right.

2. Warn others about the danger of taking advice from constantly negative people.

When you hear some people go on and on, saying management doesn’t care, the proposed change will never work, the customers expect too much, or some other complaint, take a look at who’s talking. Are they winners or losers? Are they serving as an inspiration to others, or are they crushing people’s hope? In most cases, it will be the latter.

Be careful of taking their comments too much to heart. In my workshop, I ask people to raise their right hands and repeat after me: “I hereby commit that from now on I will not take advice from anyone more messed up than I am.” People laugh, but they get the point.

3. Use an imaginary filtering screen.
The moment you sense negativity coming from others, put a make-believe screen around yourself. Tell yourself the screen only allows positive comments and constructive we-can-make-it-better criticisms to flow through. You will find that you can continue to converse and stay involved with those around you, but you won’t be disengaged by their negativity.  It may sound silly, but it works!



In the movie Forrest Gump, Forrest’s mother said, “Life is like a box of chocolates.” Sure, you could get a nougat, a chocolate covered nut, or a cherry cordial, but the most important thing about a box of chocolates is that everything in it is sweet.

Well, we know that not everything at work is sweet. There are problems and negative people that chip away at employee engagement. But the most engaged professionals have learned a key lesson. They know that they might not have the best of everything, but they know how to make the best of what they have by using these strategies.

Previous Article
Are You Having Fun at Work?  Atlanta Is!
Are You Having Fun at Work? Atlanta Is!

Next Article
New Year, New You..... Right?
New Year, New You..... Right?