9 Ways To Be A Positive Force In A Negative Workplace

My German Father-in-law would call trying to fix this negative workplace, Furzen gegen den Donner, farting against thunder. I’ve got to admit, the description I got on the other end of the phone was pretty bad: little to no recognition, development, or teamwork combined with long hours, limited resources, lots of finger-pointing, and the uncertainty of a new acquisition and consolidation.

When my caller tried to get a hold of a list of the company values, no one seemed to know where to find them. The veterans knew they existed, somewhere they were as opaque as the vacation policy no one took seriously.

Leaders were fleeing this negative workplace every day. And yet this LGL member was staying, and pulling people together to improve the scene (which had nothing to do with his day job). Why?

“I used to feel like I needed to get out of here, but now I’m so excited to be part of the solution. it’s fulfilling to see progress. I know I may lose my job in a year or so, but for now this feels like important work.”

Important work indeed. The world needs people who dive deeper to change a negative workforce. It’s far easier to run away. Here’s some tips that can help. Please add yours to the list.

How To Be A Positive Force In A Negative Workplace

  1. Ask Why They Work – In this negative environment, this may seem obvious: “for the pay check, stupid”. But take it a step further. Do they work to support their sick mom? To pay back student loans? To save for their children’s education? Because they enjoy helping customers? Because? Reconnecting to the purpose of work can help make the smaller annoyances less frustrating.
  2. Call It What It Is – When you see negative thinking or actions, talk to the person privately to call it out – particularly if other leaders are involved. When negative attitudes and talk are all around, it’s tempting to ignore it. Raise the bar and change the conversation.
  3. Rise Above The Drama – Refuse to get sucked into the rumors and gossip. Respond to your team’s concerns with transparency and candor. Be the one people know they can trust for a straight answer.
  4. Find Kindred Spirits – The truth is not everyone is negative, although it can feel that way at times. Look around and find other folks trying to change the scene for the better. There’s strength numbers.
  5. Create A Cultural Oasis – It’s easy to feel overwhelmed trying to fix the overall culture. Start with your own team and do what you can to make it feel better to come to work. See: BYOO: Build Your Own Cultural Oasis.
  6. Find Reasons To Celebrate – With all the negativity, it’s easy to over look the good. Go out of your way to recognize and celebrate small wins. Substitute weak phrases like no problem with more enthusiastic recognition power words.
  7. See Barriers As A Challenge – Encourage your team to embrace the problems they are seeing as challenges to learn and grow from. Recapping learning along the way helps them feel a sense of positive momentum even during the most challenging times.
  8. Laugh More – I had one colleague who would respond to the most ridiculous political nonsense by reminding us it’s all comedy. Stepping back and recognizing how ridiculous some behavior is creates a healthy distance from which to respond more appropriately.
  9. Hold Deeper Developmental Conversations – In periods of uncertainty, people yearn for a sense of control and connection. Take your developmental conversations to the next level. Ask your team and your peers about their hopes and dreams, what motivates them and what scares them. Show up as a real human being caring about other real human beings.