4 Tactics To Turn Around Employee Negativity
small business employee negativity

Strategy for combating employee negativity in your small business.


Have you ever noticed how often negativity seems to multiply and how much more likely you are to remember or anticipate negative experiences over positive ones?

Think about a time you have had something negative happen to or around you.

Not necessarily something major, consider an event such as being in a traffic jam when you are already late or having a co-worker take credit for your work on a project after you lost an important client. When one negative event happens you might be able to brush off the negativity quickly. But when a few negative events happen in proximity the chances are you become quicker to anticipate the next event as negative.

This can lead to creating more negativity through thoughts and actions.

As a noun the word ‘Negative’ is used to express denial, disagreement and/or refusal. As a verb we use it to indicate rejection.

When we use it as an adjective to describe a person we are indicating the person is not optimistic and someone we find less than desirable to be around.  Negativity is usually considered an unappealing and ineffective trait, but is negativity wholly deserving of this bad rap?

A psychologist would tell you that feelings of negativity are a universal trait among people.

They are due in large part to, among other things, a ‘negativity’ bias all humans have built into our brains. An anthropologist could tell you that this negativity bias is a trait of our human development that allowed us to survive as a species.

This trait enabled early humans to quickly spot potentially dangerous situations and take necessary action, which general meant to take flight or stand and fight. Your distant ancestors would not have survived if they had not anticipated danger and remained constantly vigilant to the downside of every situation.

Although we are thousands of years removed from early ancestors today your brain remains primed to seek out the negative in the world.

Today there remain benefits from this negativity bias.

This trait still enables you to spot and respond to potential ‘danger’. In a business scenario this can allow you anticipate and respond to changes and increase your chances of avoiding undesirable outcomes. However, in a small business in particular the negativity bias can have additional implications that have the potential to hamper business success.

The unchecked negativity of even one employee can have a domino effect on the moral and productivity of other employees, customers and more.

Overcoming the Negativity in your Business: Do you Ignore or Respond To Negativity?

Managing negativity in your organization is an important step in maintaining productivity.

A business leader who manages negativity well can gain the benefit of seeing potential dangers, but only if they do not allow negativity to hijack the workplace.

Consider the situation where one employee has repeatedly expressed negativity, perhaps about the state of the business or the economy, politics or anything. Within a small business this employee’s negativity can resonate with many employees whose own negativity bias is sitting waiting to be engaged.

When negative talk begins in the workplace people often become uncomfortable.

The fight or flight response can lead to people ignoring or responding to the person who is being negative, sometimes the response even becoming combative. These combative responses may be negative in response but they can also be ‘positive’, whereby people encourage the negative person to look on the bright side or minimize the concerns of the negative person as being unjustified or trivial.

Both types of responses can have the effect of increasing negativity.

Ignoring negativity does not change the feelings of the negative employee.  Responding with positivity can cause the negative employee to feel as though you have not been heard or that they and their concerns are being discounted.

When you ignore or disagree with a negative employee you are basically disagreeing with their perceptions and feelings. It can appear to them as though you are saying they are wrong or the things they are concerned about are not really all that bad.

This can make the negative employee become entrenched more deeply in the perspective. In some cases you may be tempted to terminate a negative employee, but that does not always need to be your solution.

Here are 4 ways you can address negative employees in the workplace and increase your odds of keeping these employees productive and engaged:

1.   Demonstrate Empathy

When someone is being negative they are likely in distress and fearful.

One of the most important rules in managing conflict with another person is to make sure the other person feels heard. When you demonstrate empathy you are saying to the other person I see your perspective and I agree that you have the right to your perspective.

While you do not have to agree that the person’s perspective is correct you can look for elements in their perspective that may have some degree of merit and where you can find some common ground.

A person who is expressing negativity usually wants to be heard more than they want to be cheered up.

If, for example the employee says that the business is going to fail you may not agree that the business is going to fail but you may be able to agree that there is always room for improvement. By saying to the person I see why you have your concerns you open a door to further conversation and very often diffuse a current moment of negativity.

Next- 4 ways you can address negative employees 2 through 4


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