Tuesday, 13 September 2011 03:07

The Insidious Effect of Negativity

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The topic of this article was borne from the vast differences in culture that I experienced working with two different clients in the recent past (names and references to the specific businesses are not necessary).

Have you ever walked into a room and felt that the ‘vibe’ or culture just wasn’t right?

When first walking in to work with a client, you get a feel for the interactions between people, the discussions that take place in the corridors, the set up of the office spaces and the general demeanour of people as they interact with you. From first impression, something about Business A just felt ‘off’. The culture wasn’t toxic – I have worked in environments where the culture was so spiteful and hateful that I have learnt to recognise the signs – just not quite right. Several weeks later as I started the first training session with one of the groups I would facilitate, I was faced with arms crossed, a lack of talking between participants and a general lack of energy in the room. It wasn’t boredom, stress or fear that I could feel in the room – it was negativity.

The negativity that the group displayed manifested itself in several ways and could be heard through many different comments:

  1. Introductions were short when shaking people’s hands and discussion was muted.
  2. Management was referred to as ‘management’ or in discussion as ‘us and them’,
  3. Comments about other staff were frequently derogatory and not in the other person’s presence,
  4. Comments such as ‘we have tried that before’, ‘they don’t listen’ and ‘why bother’ prevailed when discussing areas for improvement or change.
  5. Small examples of positive behaviour and ideas were quickly knocked down.

I remember commenting after the training that while I found the group interesting and enjoyed the training session, it felt like the life and positivity were being sucked out of me. While I find groups such as these the most challenging and rewarding to work with (and turn around), it takes an emotional toll and is a bit like being on a rollercoaster as you ride the ups and downs.

Is you team or work culture like this – generally negative and sucking the life out of you?

I contrast this with Business B. Business B felt positive and ‘up’ from the moment I met the first person and was demonstrated by:

  1. Introductions were polite, eye contact was made and people had a smile on their faces,
  2. ‘We did this’ and ‘we do that’ was the language of the day – there was no ‘us' and ‘them’,
  3. Negative comments were about behaviour and actions rather than about people and judgments,
  4. New ideas (raised by either the group or me) were considered, debated and argued over to find the merit in them (and written down for future planning), and           
  5. One idea sparked another new idea and further comments.

I left the training session feeling like I had made a difference (similar to Business A), but I felt like I had just been a spark and that the energy came from the group. Rather than feeling drained, I felt buoyed by the response of the group and more energised than when I had started.

The differences between the businesses and the impact it had on the people within those businesses could not have been more stark. What sparked this article was the recognition that the differences were not only based on business culture, but that the culture was reinforced by every little action and reaction that took place between people in the business.

So what can be done to limit or prevent negativity in your workplace?

  1. Remove yourself from the negative behaviour. We can all make choices – do you have to be around the negative behaviour? I heard Paul McCarthy (paulmccarthy.com.au) explain part of his childhood and his dream of being successful. To paraphrase, he said ‘to be successful, I decided to surround myself with successful people’. The same applied for negativity. If you want to be positive, surround yourself with positive people. Who are the people that have the greatest impact on your life / work life? Are they positive people?
  2. Challenge the behaviour. For some reason negative behaviour or pulling someone down (particularly in Australia) can often become accepted behaviour. In fact, I have been the negative person in the room on more than one occasion. There is no need to accept the behaviour. When I was called on my behaviour by one of my peers, I was genuinely surprised – I hadn’t thought I was being negative until I had it repeated it back to me – and they were right. What negative behaviour have you created or accepted in the workplace?
  3. Provide an alternative view / idea / decision. Identifying negative behaviour is only the first step to improving your environment. Providing a clear picture of what you would like the behaviour to be, for yourself and others, clarifies what you want.
  4. Recognise the impact you have on others. We all have bad days, make bad decisions, make negative comments. The difference is the location, intensity, emotion and audience you display your negative behaviour to. Is your negative behaviour limited, or displays in front of everyone.
  5. Be aware of the signs. Negative behaviour is 'insidious' because it can creep up on you and impact your ability to work without you realising it. Look for the signs. Make the choice to have an impact on the behaviour rather than let negativity wash over you.

Is your business environment more like Business A or B? What choices can you make to change the environment that you work in? Do you need to be more positive in your work environment?



0902-014 n1 cweb4x6Need help with addressing negativity in your workplace? Having trouble challenging behaviour that stifles creativity? Michael Peiniger is a leadership and team development specialist who helps CEO's and heads of business 'develop leaders' within their organisations. As a specialist facilitator working with the top businesses in the country, he can provide your managers, supervisors and aspiring leaders with the skills, knowledge, behaviour traits and attitudes that will make them successful in challenging negativity in your business. To discuss your needs, call Michael on 0409 627 270, email

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Last modified on Tuesday, 10 April 2012 00:06

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