Turning Around Negative Attitudes

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Learn to deal with negative people at work

Attacking negativity in the workplace: Organization Improvement Turning Around Negative Attitudes

At one time or another, organizations develop an over-abundance of  “negative energy” or attitudes.  Sometimes they can be linked to  organizational trauma, like down-sizing, budget restraints or workload  increases, but sometimes they evolve over time with no apparent triggering  event.  The negative organization is characterized by increased  complaining, a focus on reasons why things can’t be done, and what seems  to be a lack of hope that things will get better.  It feels like the  organization in stuck in treacle.  And, it’s contagious.  Negativism can  affect even the most positive employees.

What can you do?  Based on an article by Arthur Beck and Ellis Hillmar,  professors in organization development at University of Richmond, we  suggest the following:

Model Positive Behaviour

It is obvious that if management is walking negative and talking in a  negative way, staff will follow.  Don’t do it.  More than that, take a  positive approach with staff by showing confidence in their abilities.   Expect a lot, support staff, hold them accountable, confront them and be  clear and honest.  Set standards for your own work and relations with  employees, and work towards meeting them to set an example of positive  behaviour.

Acknowledge Negativity

You can’t ignore negativity and expect it to go away.  If you do not  acknowledge it, then staff will feel that you are out of touch, and will not  be confident in your abilities.  Acknowledge the frustration negative  feelings, and do not try to convince the person or people that they  shouldn’t have their negative feelings.  However, when acknowledging  employees’ negative feelings, try asking for suggestions regarding what to  do about them.

Look For And Identify The Positives In All Situations

Sometimes we forget to find positives.  When an employee makes an  impractical solution, we are quick to dismiss the idea. We should be  identifying the effort while gently discussing the idea.  Look for small  victories, and talk about them.  Turning a negative organization into a  positive one is a result of thousands of little actions.

Give Positive Recognition Often

Pretty straight-forward.  Provide positive recognition as soon as you find  out about good performance.  Do not couple positive strokes with  suggestions for improvement.  Separate them.  Combining them devalues  the recognition for many people.

Refrain From Collusion On Negativity

It is easy to get caught in the general complaining and bitching,  particularly in informal discussions.  When faced with negative  conversations, consider changing the subject, comment on the negative  content (“Let’s talk about something more pleasant”), or ask what can be  done about the situation (move from negative to positive slant).

A Few More Quick Tips:

  • Hold a strategic planning session to focus on a positive future (but make  sure it is well facilitated).
  • Encourage staff to find creative ways to make the work environment more  enjoyable.
  • Encourage staff to be involved in decision-making and delegate where  possible.
  • Introduce a “work-smart” program to dehassle the workplace.


It is not uncommon for organizations to go through periods of negativity.   Managers play important roles in determining if that negativity will  increase, or whether the trough is relatively short.  Above all, remember  that it is the little things that you do, day in and day out, that make the  difference.

Based on “What Managers Can Do To Turn Around Negative Attitudes”  (Beck & Hillmar), published in “Performance (A. Dale Tempe, Editor),  Facts On File Publications, 1988.

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