Why does negativity seem to gain the upper hand?
Here’s what I have observed or experienced.
It’s how we think – We hear bad news or see bad behavior and react. The part of our brain that processes the danger isn’t very evolved. We focus on the negative because we need to survive.
Organizations tend to hide the truth – Most leaders and companies gloss over problems or delay sharing bad news. When employees, shareholders, or customers aren’t getting what they need, they turn elsewhere. Those alternative sources fuel negative news, with little regard for accuracy.
Many of us are afraid to speak up – I’m always amazed. Even in negative cultures, there are plenty of folks who don’t agree with what is happening. They just aren’t talking. The result? Some people have the skills to confront in respectful ways. Others simply offend everyone with their negative version of events.
There are no standards for behavior – Without explicit guidelines for conduct or dialogue why are we surprised when people act in disrespectful ways? People behaving badly encourages more bad behavior.
We don’t have much practice with confrontation – Without coaching, leaders will either struggle to confront or won’t even try. Changing habits takes a combination of skill and lots of practice to get better.
What can leaders do to overcome the power of negativity at work?
One simple idea is to tell the truth. Be more honest in every conversation and public forum.
Another approach is to make it safe for everyone to share their versions of the truth and ask tough questions. Help the silent majority find its voice so their concerns aren’t being filtered by more vocal negative elements.
Finally, establish basic standards for expected behaviors and enforce them. It’s important that leaders call out those who violate the code of conduct but it’s critical that everyone sees this as their duty.
I have witnessed the toll that negativity has on morale, customer service, and employee turnover. We should all take responsibility for our contributions to this problem and feel some obligation to be part of the solution.