In a recent workshop, "Jane" asked about negativity in the workplace:

"Our work environment is so negative. It's like The Wave. One individual starts and then everybody joins in, including me some days. I want to stop. But when I don't engage, they all look at me like I'm "Miss Polly Positive" or something."

She went on to say, "I don't feel like I can talk about this without making the others bad. I also don't want to turn into a cheerleader: 'Hey, let's all look on the bright side,' or 'We can turn this around, come on!' I worry that the group will ostracize me if I don't join in their disapproval, sarcasm, and general negative energy. I hate to come to work some days."

Negativity is a common theme in my conflict and communication skills trainings. The costs of negativity in the workplace are far-reaching, from lateness, errors, and unhappy customers to illness, accidents, and the loss of more positive-minded employees.

What to do? I rather like what Jane was uncomfortable saying. Sometimes people are looking for a cheerleader. Changing your ki, your energy, may be just what others are waiting for. They may want to change, too, and just need an invitation. No one wants to be the first!

Crazy, isn't it? I don't want to stand out or look too good, too positive. And yet we all want to be happy. Well, most of us do.

Jane decided to come out of the closet with her positivism in a more general way. Next staff meeting, she's going to bring up her desire to change, as in:

"I'd like to talk about something that's been on my mind. I know we work in a difficult environment. We need to keep the customer happy, be effective, safe, and efficient, and achieve the best outcome we can for the department. Every day I try to come in with a positive attitude and to keep that energy going. But it's hard. It's so easy to focus on what's wrong, how needy that customer was or what a bad attitude someone has. Anyway, I just want to say that I'd like to change. When I hear a conversation that seems to be going in a downward direction, I may not engage. It doesn't mean that I'm not stressed. And I don't mean to suggest I'm better than anyone else. I'm just working on keeping my energy up and maybe trying to find something positive to focus on.

"I wanted you to know that I'm trying to be more positive here at work, and if you want to help me, that's great. I'd love it."

What I appreciate about Jane's approach is that she understands she does not have to change everyone, just herself. And that she does not have to keep her new direction a secret. She realizes that by being open about her process, she is freer to pursue the goal.

I'd like to be at that staff meeting, wouldn't you? I have some guesses about the way things will change once Jane starts to tap the hidden ki around negativity. I am also a believer that it only takes one to begin a sea change that will eventually create waves of its own.

There are loads of articles on the Web about Negativity in the Workplace. I found one I thought was pretty good on this article site.

Author's Bio: 

Judy Ringer is the author of Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict ( and the award-winning e-zine, Ki Moments, containing stories and practices on turning life's challenges into life teachers. Judy is a black belt in aikido and nationally known presenter, specializing in unique workshops on conflict, communication, and creating a positive work environment. She is the founder of Power & Presence Training and chief instructor of Portsmouth Aikido, Portsmouth, NH, USA. To sign up for more free tips and articles like these, visit