Many of us are having to put in extra work to rally ourselves and bring positive energy to work. When you show up mustering all of the enthusiasm you can, and someone else spews toxicity into the air, it can feel like a personal affront to your efforts.
Yes, there are times when we laugh in solidarity at a Dilbert cartoon or collectively sigh in the face of an unreasonable deadline, but constant negativity can leave you feeling drained.
Emotions are contagious, and according to Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter, “Negativity keeps pounding away at you and ultimately results in significant second-hand stress, which as you might expect, has the same effects on your mind and body as direct stress. The body experiences and interprets it as one and the same.”
Habitually negative people cannot be left unaddressed. Try these five strategies to up the level of positivity in your workplace:
1. Stop agreeing. You teach people how to treat you. Continuing to nod along to someone’s ‘this is awful’ rant or even politely laughing at the 47th ‘this company sucks’ joke reinforces the behavior. If you disagree, say so. Yes, it will be awkward for a few minutes. But that person will likely stop plunking their negativity down on your desk (or in your inbox).
2. Redirect their energy. One of the most powerful techniques I’ve learned about dealing with negative people comes from my nephews’ martial arts class; Aikido, more specifically. In Aikido, you’re taught that when someone attacks you, you don’t push directly back. Instead, you direct the energy elsewhere. With a constantly negative person, redirecting their energy could mean pointing them towards a resource, like their manager or HR. It could also be suggesting they take action to resolve whatever negativity they are expressing. And in many cases, they’ll correctly ascertain the subtext of, “I’m not going to partake in your pity party.”
3. Balance it out. To some extent, the emotional tone of your environment is a numbers game (the ratio of positive vs. negative). The most obvious mitigator is to surround yourself with people who bring you up, who see the silver lining, and keep you focused on what matters….but those folks can be kind of hard to come by these days. In the absence of people positivity, try looking to uplifting books, podcasts, and online communities for support. Those words will echo in your ears when your team is down.
4. Safeguard your mind. Set boundaries and try not to ruminate on someone else’s negativity. Unless you’re actually planning on delivering the verbal takedown you constructed in the shower, you’re the only one paying the price. Do your best to let it go.
5. Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know. The truth is, we have no idea what people are dealing with. COVID aside, troubled relationships, financial strain, and mental health challenges are all on the rise. A habitually negative person is likely fighting a battle you know nothing about. Operate from a place of empathy; it doesn’t mean you too have to partake in the griping, you just don’t attribute a moral failing to those who do.
We show up to work as imperfect people and we are navigating this strange world in imperfect ways. You are only in control of your own behavior. Negative people will always exist, but you don’t have to let them seep into your day and hijack your mood.