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Managing Workplace Negativity - 1 September 2009

Most people have experienced some sort of road rage at some stage. It might have been the impatient beeping of a car horn, rude gestures, verbal abuse, or more serious offences like tailgating, cutting others off, or physical threats.

The biggest reason why this occurs is the trigger of helplessness – the point at which road rage drivers lose their ability to influence their situation. It might be the helplessness of being stuck in traffic that makes them lash out. It could be the helplessness of being unable to change lanes that makes them frantically flash their head-lights. Or it might be the helplessness of almost being hit by a careless driver that makes them get violent in return.

Employees can be negative at work when they sense a similar kind of helplessness. They feel so resigned with their lot in life that they resort to constant complaining. They feel so hard done-by that they can’t help but focus on flaws. They feel so incapable of dealing with their own issues that they decide to bring others down. This helplessness eventually turns into hopelessness, and that’s when they become despondent and pessimistic.

Here are some ideas on how to assist your employees to get out of this helpless state.

- Awareness: They might not know they’re being negative. Provide feedback that focuses on behaviours, not their personality, and the impact it’s having on the team.

- Responsibility: Treat negative behaviours as a performance-related issue. Set detailed and clear expectations, and measure progress. Maximise accountability.

- Empower: When an employee comes to you with a problem, don’t solve it. Ask them for the solution. If they haven’t got one, request that they return when they do.

- Support: Let them vent. Sometimes they just want to be heard. For those that might have personal issues at home, consider sending them to a counsellor.

- Reinforcement: Whenever you see them being optimistic, praise them for it. This increases the likelihood of the positive behaviour being repeated.

Road rage incidents always escalate when one driver, already in the midst of fury, clashes with another driver who’s in the same state of mind. Likewise, negativity feeds on negativity. You can avoid a collision by personally not contributing to its power at work.

 

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