Monday Mornings with Madison

Navigating Workplace Negativity

Is there a Negative Nancy, Glum Gus or Pessimistic Peter bringing down your entire workplace?  This negative ninny focuses on the bad to the exclusion of all positive aspects, engaging in “all or nothing” thinking,  blaming others, and allowing anger to cause a breakdown in communication.  This can happen in any work environment.  It can be coming from a supervisor, employee or customer.  These detrimental behaviors can become typical if workplace negativity is allowed to spiral out of control unchecked.

What’s more, a workplace environment that is charged with negative electricity has an adverse effect on every employee. Time is squandered on petty gossip and caustic complaints.  Innovative ideas are shot down by naysayers.  Company loyalty is affected by the negative chatter.  It erodes spirits and quashes enthusiasm.  With a low morale and divided loyalties, it becomes very hard for employees to work together to service their customers.  Thus, consumers are also affected by the decreased productivity brought about through negative attitudes.  It is a workplace behavior that benefits no one.

While it’s obvious that negative people are not pleasant to have around, managers may not realize that such negativity can also significantly affect workplace performance? For example, the way a boss treats his staff has a major effect on performance levels. A study conducted at the University of Florida showed that employees with difficult managers were more likely than others to slow down or make errors, and not put in maximum effort. They were also less likely to make suggestions or go out of their way to fix workplace problems.

A negative atmosphere can also spread from peer to peer.  And some harmful environments stem from the management or supervisors. A supervisor who constantly focuses on the bad side, or has a discouraging management style, can have a downbeat effect on their employees.  What is an affirmative, cheerful employee to do?  Is there a way to encourage and strive for a positive atmosphere when surrounded by negative people?

Managing a Negative Employee or Coworker

1. Talk it Out – If grumblings and complaints start brewing over the coffee machine, it is important to find out the source of the problem. Speak with employees or associates to try to understand the exact problem and how it’s impacting the workplace. Leadership should not ignore the complaints.  Employees should be given a chance to air their grievances. Sometimes, employees just want to be heard. Listening, empathizing and acknowledging the complaints of employees and coworkers is the first step toward a constructive workplace environment.

Once all sides to an issue have been aired and heard, the manager can decide how to address it. It may not be possible to please everyone, and at times, the supervisor may have to make decisions that are unpopular. But, listening to an employee’s feedback helps the employee to feel validated and that their opinion matters.

2. Recognize with Rewards – Employees want to feel appreciated and secure that their efforts make a difference. Acknowledgement can come in the form of small gifts and bonuses, or even verbal recognition. If an employee works overtime to meet a deadline, a gift certificate for dinner is a small present that will pay big dividends in terms of employee satisfaction. Announcing at a staff meeting that the sales team did a great job this month will foster a positive attitude. Even a quick thank you email, or an appreciative comment can help make an employee feel valued.

Acknowledging an employee’s efforts or accomplishments will go a long way towards keeping an upbeat and enthusiastic environment. While Jacob may have needed a reprimand for his pricing mistake, imagine how much more receptive he would be to criticism if he had a positive relationship with his boss, and he knew that the rest of his work was appreciated.

3. Stay Focused – If a member of your team is constantly rejecting ideas and focusing on drawbacks, you need to refocus their energies. After your employee or coworker lists all the reasons why an idea will not work, ask them for some constructive suggestions on how to accomplish the assignment. Do not allow them to repeat all the defects, focus their energies on coming up with a solution, instead of pointing out the problems.

For example, if Jodi in the marketing team doesn’t like the new tagline, that’s fine. But if all Jodi can do is veto and reject, she’s wasting her energy and dragging down the creative spark of the entire project. Jodi’s manager or teammates should listen to her feedback and then assign her the task of coming up with a better idea! This will help silence the negativity, and it may even spur more constructive results.

Coping with a Negative Supervisor

1. It’s Not PersonalIf your supervisor or manager is constantly giving you negative feedback, chances are you are not the only one receiving bad treatment. Chronically negative managers can be nasty to everyone, not just you. Taking it personally can be damaging to your emotional health and overall work performance. Rather, you should keep in mind that the problem is not you- its the manager.

2. Use “I” MessagesIf you have a specific issue that needs to be resolved, do not approach your supervisor with a request using the word “you”. Demands such as:  “Could you please stop… or – “Why are you….” will come across as accusatory, and your supervisor will likely focus on the personal attack. If you are seeking to resolve an issue the best way to frame your requests is with the pronoun “I”. Keep it small and simple and use the phrase “I need”, instead of “You should.”

For example, Rather than saying “You should stop pressuring me about the deadline.” Phrase the request like this: “I need some uninterrupted time to focus on accomplishing this task before the deadline.”

Handling a Negative Customer

1. Keep Calm, Keep Cool – Staying calm with an irate customer can be extremely difficult. If an unhappy customer is screaming in your ear, or waving a receipt in your face, it can be very hard to keep your cool. However it is essential to stay calm and business-like no matter how badly the customer is behaving. Take deep breaths and speak in low, even tones.  Don’t get defensive or upset, and maintain a professional demeanor throughout the encounter.

While Jennifer may have felt a momentary satisfaction in “blowing off steam” at the inventory reps, her angry comments did nothing to help her situation. If she would stay calm and polite throughout the conversation, it’s likely she would get positive results.

2. Respond Promptly – Letting a disgruntled customer stew in their fury will only exacerbate the problem. It’s normal to want to procrastinate responding to a customer complaint, or returning a nasty phone call. But the longer the delay, the more time the customer has to develop negative thoughts about you and your business. The faster you address the customer’s problem, the less time he has to focus on the negative issue.

Not all complaints can be dealt with swiftly. Even if you do not have an instant solution, keeping the customer informed of your progress will satisfy them. Give the customer a status update so they know you are taking care of the problem. Instead of ignoring a message from an irate customer who’s order is delayed, Jamie should pick up the phone and tell his customer, “I’m tracking your hubcap order now. As soon as the parts are delivered, it will be another two days until your vehicle is ready.”

3. Keep it Private – An angry customer making a scene can be extreme detrimental to any business. Raised voices, furious gestures, and confrontational body language will have a negative effect on customers and employees alike. If a customer starts to get worked up over an issue, invite them into a private office or a more secluded area to talk. This way you can direct your attention solely on solving their problem, and they won’t cause a distraction for other customers.

Maintaining a positive attitude throughout your work day can sometimes be very difficult. Workplace relationships are complex and multi-faceted . There is the demanding supervisor, the annoying co-worker, and the customer who is impossible to please. But, utilizing these coping mechanisms can help you to overcome any negative obstacles for a positive and uplifting workplace environment.

Quote of the Week

“You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

© 2018, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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