Top Ten Tips on...

Tackling Negativity

7 February 2022
Effective Top Tens - Podcast
Quick, practical tips on a wide range of management and personal development themes.
You may have to deal or work with someone who seems to be very negative in their approach. Here's what you can do...

you'll like these tips if you're interested in...


is it negativity?

check: is it negativity? Are you labeling it correctly? We all struggle from time to time; there'll be things that we get frustrated about that we don't like; that are irritating and we may express them, but is it actually negativity - or people just talking in a way that allows them to let off steam and let people know how they feel. There's a real danger that if we don't allow people to talk about what bothers them, that we're actually going to encourage people to keep things to themselves and bottle it up. And the danger is not as it will come out at some stage in a less controlled and safe environment.


separate attitude and behaviour

negativity can be a state of mind, and it can also be some inappropriate behaviours. If it's an attitude, the only way you'll know that somebody has a negative attitude is if they display it through their behaviour. And you can address that if it's having some impact, that's unhelpful on the team, the organisation or the customers; but if the attitude is negative, then they really have to look after that for themselves. And you can, of course help them address a negative attitude, but essentially it's the negative behavior that you need to tackle.


is it a blind spot?

if they are coming across as negative to you - do they know, that you are regarding how they are being as negative? It could be what we call a blind spot. They either don't know that that's how they're coming across. Or that they are aware, but don’t realise it has a negative effect. And by definition, anyone who has a blind spot cannot self-correct, they cannot change something that they're not aware of. So there's some responsibility on the people receiving the negative behavior to address it with that person. And if you're not comfortable with doing that, and that may be perfectly reasonable, then you have to continue to live with the continuing negative behaviour, because they're not going to correct it for themselves.


avoid labelling

somebody might actually be quite negative, but about something specific that really bothers or upsets them. But it doesn't mean to say that they are a negative person overall. Be careful not to label somebody as a generalized negative person because they happen to be negative in one particular aspect or issue.


four types, four responses

there are four key types of negativity and they're very different in the way they're expressed. And they each require a different response. So the next four tips will take you through the four types and how I think you might best deal with each type.


the explosive negative

this kind of person sits on that negativity for a while, and lets it build up. And then at some point they go off like a bottle of pop. They explode, they vent, they rant, they let off steam. And actually for them, that's quite healthy. They're not bottling it up. They're not suppressing it. The less likely to have a heart attack or an ulcer. The issue here is to make sure they vent in a safe, professional and supportive way. So when they're in a calm state, talk to them and encourage them to discharge, rather than stay distressed, but do so in a safe environment, a private environment where nobody else is affected or damaged by the outburst.


the happy negative

this type of person tends to feel they're a bit downtrodden. They've not benefited in life very much. They don't have a job they value, they may have missed out on promotion, not been successful at interview. They generally feel hard done by. And then, and I don't know how this happens, they discover something. They discover they have a talent, and that talent is for winding people up. And all of a sudden their attitude and motivation to and for work changes; they have a spring in their step, a sparkle in their eye, and they're ready for battle. And they're very good. They're clever. They have worked out most people's soft spots and exploiting them, and are very good at managing their own state. They don't get rattled and they have an answer for everything. So they can dominate any relationship in an adverse way. They enjoy what they are doing; they are skilled and they always stay on the right side of performance. Even if they don't look like they're listening in a meeting, they are; even if they don't seem to want to do what's required, they will do it, though perhaps to a minimum level. So what to do? Firstly if this happens in a meeting you are attending, please don’t regard it as theatre. You're not there to watch the interplay between a Chair who's under attack and a happy negative baiting, and generally running amock. It’s not your job to sit and watch. You should intervene and you should do your very best to support anybody who is beleaguered. The happy negative, by having an audience. is empowered by it.Two further pieces of advice. Firstly, don't let them get to you. However they behave is up to them, and eventually they will have to take the consequences of that - but they don't have to infect or contaminate you. So manage your own response and stay positive despite the challenge and provocation. And secondly, have a conversation with the happy negative and acknowledge how skilled they are, and ask what would it take to get them to use such talent to positive effect.


the depressed negative

somebody may through just be depressed. If this is the case, then it’s something that's probably beyond your responsibility. Your job mainly is to show support. If somebody is struggling in this way, they should be encouraged to seek professional help.


cultural negativity

in this situation, negativity starts to build its own head of steam. Most negative people are louder than positive people. And as a result, they tend to recruit more positive people do, because they are interested in recruiting others to becoming part of their negative alliance. Most positive people stay quiet, keep their head down, get on with their work and say nothing. Where there is a culture of negativity you can hear people in the coffee room or the staff room grumbling and seeking others’ agreement. And it’s very rare to hear this challenged, or similar sized groups of people saying: “isn't this a fabulous place to work, you know? management are really ecxcellent. It's great here.” Tends not to happen. And as a result, the way things are and discussed is dominated by the negatives, not the positives, and people who aren't particularly negative and don't want to particularly affiliate to the negatives just say quiet – or join in and agree with the negative view because either ‘anything for a quiet life’ or because they fear being alienated or victimized by not agreeing. There are two suggestions to counter this. Firstly, make a stand for positivity, provide the counter-argument. You may need to be brave, but if the several of you who can make that stand, you can stand together. And if you're a manager in that environment, you need to be a positive role model and you need to do your best to create a positive culture, to stand against the negative culture. To do nothing is to actually permit the negative culture to win the day – and not to challenge is, in effect, to condone.


inoculate yourself

make sure that whatever's incoming to you, you don't let it affect you. You don't let it contaminate you. You'll never be at your best if you allow yourself to be taken down and you'll not feel good about yourself to allow other people to dominate your mindset. So maintain your own positivity. Be proud in in standing for what's right.

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