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Six Tips for Turning Around Negativity at Work


Six Tips for Turning Around Negativity at WorkNegativity at work is like the wind—too much causes destruction; too little and no transformation can occur.

A client of mine (a manager) experienced extreme negativity at work. He told me he was having a wonderful day until a man called to complain about one of his employees. The exchange affected his entire day, his sleep that night and his ability to concentrate on an important project the next day. How often do you let a negative interaction ruin your peace of mind? That doesn’t have to happen. Here’s how you can put a positive spin on a negative interaction.

Six Ways to Make a Negative Interaction More Positive

1. Check Assumptions Before You React
Communication breakdowns are common in every workplace. There are many steps you can take to either prevent those breakdowns or to mitigate the damage. Escalation usually occurs when someone jumps to conclusions. Check out assumptions before you react by asking a simple question that starts with these words: “What has happened that makes you think _____?” or “What makes you say ____?” You will be amazed at how quickly you can diffuse the situation by getting clear on the facts.

2. Call a “Time Out”
If your back brain (fight or flight response) gets triggered by a negative interaction, you know you are feeling either afraid or angry. Once triggered, your quality of judgment, communication skills and your ability to see solutions all decrease. Your physiology prepares to attack or run away. Adrenaline pumps into the blood stream, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure goes up, your muscles tense, your voice changes pitch, your pupils enlarge, etc. It is only when your physiology returns to normal that you can have a constructive conversation. Try taking a walk down the hall and take some long slow breaths, or simply count to 10 before answering.

3. Vent Your Negative Feelings in a Constructive Way
If technique number two doesn’t work, take a longer break. Calmly and respectfully re-schedule a discussion later in the day after you’ve had time to reflect. Go for a vigorous walk or run, write out your thoughts or talk it out with an objective third party. Once you diffuse the negativity you will be able to see win-win solutions that were not apparent before.

4. State a Collaborative Intent
Once back in the conversation, start the conversation with such phrases as: “I would like to find an outcome that works for both of us (or for all parties concerned).” “My intent is to figure out a way that allows everyone to feel satisfied with the results.”

5. Reframe in the Positive
Summarize the complaint and then re-state it in positive terms:

You: “You say you feel that the new schedule is unfair because it gets in the way of family commitments. So what you are really looking for is a schedule that works for your job as well as for your family. Is that correct?”

Employee: “Yes, the schedule before let me pick my kids up from school. Now they have to take the bus. Cheryl now has my old schedule and she doesn’t have kids.”

You: “My intent is to find something that works for everyone. I want you to meet your family commitments and for us to meet our obligations to our customers. Your presence in the later afternoon is important to the company. Let’s put our heads together and I’m sure we can find a workable solution.”

6. Think outside the Box
Once you have cleared up assumptions, vented negativity in a constructive way, stated a collaborative intent and reframed both your needs in a positive way, you will start to see possibilities. Take a few minutes to brainstorm a number of possible solutions. Then, once your list is in place, you can both negotiate the ones that would best serve the needs of all those concerned.

Carla Rieger is an expert on arts-based training and development and speaks on The Power of Laughter and The Artistry of Change. As a frequent speaker, trainer and coach, Carla helps people stay on their creative edge. If you are planning a meeting or conference and need a presentation or support materials, go to

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