I was working at the headquarters of the United States Air Forces in Europe as a technical sergeant in the Air Force. I was very proud of my uniform and of the things I had done in my career. So, I always wore a long-sleeved shirt, tie, and all my ribbons.
One day, a lieutenant came up to me in the office. He said, “Sergeant Knotts, you need to stop wearing your tie and ribbons to work. You’re making us all look bad.” I had a lot of ribbons. I turned to the lieutenant and calmly replied, “I’m sorry sir, but you’re making yourself look bad.”
Since when did it become a crime to be successful and be positive about it?
I have since worked as a personal and professional business coach and consultant for more than 25 years. In every single organization that I have worked with, there are always those people that want to work hard, improve things and be successful — what I would call the “positive people.”
In recent years, the term “toxic positivity” has entered our lexicon. It’s used to describe people who stay positive and focus on positive things all the time. They do not dwell on unpleasant emotions. While psychologists have recognized toxic positivity can be harmful, not all positive people exhibit a toxic level of positivity.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have toxic negativity. Negativity is usually easy to spot, but when it is cloaked in professional dogma, we start to question our own positivity. Trust me, going with the flow certainly makes life easier, but it does not make it better.
Here are five tips for addressing negativity in the workplace.
1. Recognize when it happens
Negative co-workers often say things like, “We’ve tried that before,” “That’ll never work here,” “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and “That’s not possible.”
There will always be people that want to resist progress and change. Today more than ever, we need to stand up to the toxic negativity that is trying to hold everyone back. In a Psychology Today article, writer George Everly shared this quote from a colleague: “There are two types of people, those who contribute and those who detract. You must learn that the best way to build your career and your life is through your own achievements, not by attacking the achievements of others.”
The same goes for ideas. Rather than shoot down suggestions, we all need to work together to build upon each other’s ideas in order to find a lasting solution.
Negativity is everywhere today — at work, at home, in politics, and especially on social media — so we must be able to identify it as it’s unfolding.
2. Take the high road and do not get drawn in
Once you recognize it happening, focus on your own emotions and behaviors. Negative people want you to be negative right along with them. Misery loves company, right?
Oftentimes, negative people will appeal to your sensibilities and logic. They will try to get you to agree with them with questions like, “Don’t you think this is going to be difficult?” “Isn’t this going to cost a lot of money?” and “Shouldn’t we be focused on other things right now?”
Their arguments might cause you to wonder if what is being done is right. Think back to the purpose and the reason behind your course of action. Reiterate your reasoning and maintain your positivity.
3. Confront the behavior with how you feel about it
When you hear people being negative about other’s positivity, do not just go along with it. Laughing and walking away only confirms that the negativity is founded. Ask things like, “Have you talked to them about this?” or “Do you know why this is happening?”
Many times, negative people do not have all the information. Sometimes they only have their version of what is happening. Make a point of ensuring they are fully aware of what is going on.
4. Walk away when you know you have lost
Unfortunately, some people are just going to be negative. It does not matter what you do, you will not change their mind. Like the Lieutenant I mentioned in the opening story, he felt I was making him look bad by always coming to work trying to look my best.
There is a point where you just give up and get on with your life. Do not let them waste your time.
5. Remember that you are not at fault
This is the most important tip. Negative people will start to challenge your positivity. You will start to ask yourself things like, “Am I being too positive?” “Is this the right thing to do?” or “Should I be like everyone else?”
While there is such a thing as constructive criticism and times where you should be open to feedback, there’s no reason to entertain people who are only interested in tearing you down. Being positive is not a bad thing.
Be a ray of sunshine in these dark days and share your positivity. I, for one, appreciate it!
This article has been reprinted with permission from John Knotts´Forbes page.