Uncut: Friends and Colleagues Share How They Deal with Negativity in the Workplace

Updated: Jan 29

I asked some of my best friends and colleagues what they thought about the impact of positive - and negative - interactions at work, and how they worked to improve or dissolve negativity when it happens. I received many answers, but these were my three favorites. I loved their answers and am running them uncut. Their answers are honest and real...hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Cold beer and raw oysters save the day - manufacturing industry colleague

"Positivity in the workplace is critical for sustained personal and organizational success driven by creativity, innovation, passion, talent, ambition and a host of emotion descriptive adjectives too many to list completely. It's true that mood deeply influences how folks approach, execute and complete work, and that employee interactions drive workplace mood and culture. Positive interactions among employees are critical on so many levels and the value creation derived is leveraged many, many times over the opportunity costs of not engaging positively.

In those unfortunate instances where negative interaction is INVOKED, not only is success, momentum, excitement, and productivity stymied, it often contributes to the evolution of a negative, ambivalent or threatening work environment - real & perceived. Employee fulfillment is borne not just from monetary compensation, but also from trust, friendships, participation, contribution, recognition, reliability, security and encouragement. Deliberate focus on these and other positive interaction elements is necessary after a negative engagement.

On the personal front, I strive always to interact positively - when I can't or have an emotional lapse, I always feel pangs of guilt, feel fatigued afterwards or downright reclusive. When I'm on the receiving end and depending on the source, I react most often with surprise initially, then anger lightly cloaked in laughter or smiles fired back in responsive salvos and, ultimately, depending on the situation, feel defensive and threatened, put out or wondering what the heck just happened. And, always the outcome is difficult to get over or forget - unless it's my wife, and I better or else!!!

Cold beer and raw oysters have been used to salve the wounds as has humble pie and walks in the woods. Sleep aids (both bourbon & prescriptions) help combat the 3:00 a.m. awakenings where my mind retraces and replays the event as in Groundhog Day. Getting away from the crime scene is usually an immediate inclination. When moods go south and ensuing actions ruffle feathers, time and apologies go farthest to righting the ship. Forgiveness when it can be granted is important – manifested in a lunch or "clear-the-air" conversation. When those won't work, well, you plow through -sorta like a bit of advice I heard on NCIS last night - "when you're going through hell, keep going!"

Finding a balance; recognizing different work styles - supply chain industry colleague

For one thing, it really takes effort and commitment to maintain a positive workplace, and to remind yourself to be positive in your interactions. For me, before reacting to something negative, or responding negatively, I try to step back and think about it first because it's something you can't undo or recover from easily. When I find myself focusing on the negative, I try to remind myself of all the things that are going right with a given situation. It really is a balance.

When I've been in a situation I felt was negative, say, about something I did or didn't do, I try to go back and figure out what I can do better next time, so that I don't get into that situation. It's not always easy. If I need to vent, I find someone neutral and not connected to the situation and discuss it with them. As far as the workplace, often people will talk about each other. When someone is talking to me about something they don't like about someone else, I try to diffuse and isolate the problem they have, and, if appropriate, offer a solution. or at least remind that person that it's probably not the person they are upset with, but their work style, for example. I try to offer solutions (to others who are dealing with negative situation) where I can when appropriate. The last thing I can think of, is that my contribution to positive employee relations is to keep a candy dish in my office and keep it stocked (within reason). I pay for it and I realize not everyone can do that, but I think that it's one of those little things that really goes a long way.

Get a dog. - Financial industry colleague

Off the top of my head, here are the strategies I use to pull myself out of a negative space:

  1. Get up, move around - ideally take a walk, ideally outside among nature. This works on many levels; it gets you breathing and moves you outside the bubble you're in. As your view literally expands, your problems are diminished and put into a wider perspective.

  2. Humor - you won't always see the funny side immediately, but there's often a ridiculous side to whatever's got you down. This can be as simple as mimicking that person who annoyed you as you walk to make yourself laugh. Childish, but effective.

  3. Get a dog - I don't have one right now, but in my experience, they make you smile and are brilliant listeners who never judge or provide "helpful" advice that you don't want to hear.