At one time or another, organizations
develop an over-abundance of "negative
energy" or attitudes. Sometimes they can be
linked to organizational trauma, like
down-sizing, budget restraints or workload
increases, but sometimes they evolve over
time with no apparent triggering event. The
negative organization is characterized by
increased complaining, a focus on reasons
why things can't be done, and what seems to
be a lack of hope that things will get
better. It feels like the organization in
stuck in treacle. And, it's contagious.
Negativism can affect even the most positive
What can you do? Based on
an article by Arthur Beck and Ellis Hillmar,
professors in organization development at
University of Richmond, we suggest the
It is obvious that if
management is walking negative and talking
in a negative way, staff will follow. Don't
do it. More than that takes a positive
approach with staff by showing confidence in
their abilities. Expect a lot, support
staff, hold them accountable, confront them
and be clear and honest. Set standards for
your own work and relations with employees,
and work towards meeting them to set an
example of positive behavior.
You can't ignore
negativity and expect it to go away. If you
do not acknowledge it, then staff will feel
that you are out of touch, and will not be
confident in your abilities. Acknowledge the
frustration negative feelings, and do not
try to convince the person or people that
they shouldn’t have their negative feelings.
However, when acknowledging employees’
negative feelings, try asking for
suggestions regarding what to do about them.
Look For and
Identify the Positives in All Situations
Sometimes we forget to
find positives. When an employee makes an
impractical solution, we are quick to
dismiss the idea. We should be identifying
the effort while gently discussing the idea.
Look for small victories, and talk about
them. Turning a negative organization into a
positive one is a result of thousands of
Provide positive recognition as soon as you
find out about good performance. Do not
couple positive strokes with suggestions for
improvement. Separate them. Combining them
devalues the recognition for many people.
Collusion on Negativity
It is easy to get caught
in the general complaining and bitching,
particularly in informal discussions. When
faced with negative conversations, consider
changing the subject, comment on the
negative content ("Let's talk about
something more pleasant"), or ask what can
be done about the situation (move from
negative to positive slant).
A Few More
Hold a strategic planning
session to focus on a positive future (but
make sure it is well facilitated).
Encourage staff to find
creative ways to make the work environment
Encourage staff to be
involved in decision-making and delegate
Introduce a "work-smart"
program to de-hassle the workplace.
It is not uncommon for
organizations to go through periods of
negativity. Managers play important roles in
determining if that negativity will
increase, or whether the trough is
relatively short. Above all, remember that
it is the little things that you do, day in
and day out, that make the difference.
Based on "What Managers
Can Do to Turn around Negative Attitudes"
(Beck & Hillmar), published in "Performance
(A. Dale Tempe, Editor), Facts on File
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