Leadership in a Negative Culture

Guest Blogger: Ken Byler, Owner, Higher Ground Consulting Group, LLC

Negativity at work seems to spread like a cancer. My client experiences over the years have reminded me how prevalent and damaging negativity can be. Left unchecked, negativity will impact employee morale, productivity, and customer service. It sucks the life out of everyone, including leadership.

Why Negativity Persists

Here is what I have observed and experienced.

It’s how we thinkWe 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 sources fuel negative news, with little regard for accuracy.

Many of us are afraid to speak up – 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 respectfully. 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 encourage 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.

How Leaders Can Respond to Negativity

Here are some helpful tips.

  • Tell the truth. Practice honesty in every conversation and public forum.
  • Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into the negative outlook of others.
  • Avoid arguments by focusing on areas of agreement.
  • Establish consequences for persistent negative behavior and enforce them.
  • Ask more questions so negative employees can explore what is behind their behavior.
  • Listen more to ensure you understand what is happening in the workplace.
  • Make it safe for everyone to share their versions of the truth or ask tough questions.
  • Empower your people so they can’t view themselves as victims.
  • Make better hiring decisions by screening for negative people.

Remember, negativity can be triggered by false perceptions people have about others and themselves. Changing those perceptions using assessments like Everything DiSC is another approach you might take.  As negative persons feel better about themselves, they can begin to see their situation differently. When everyone on a team understands each other, it’s harder to allow negativity to take root.

Leaders must accept responsibility for their own contributions to negativity at work and feel some obligation to become part of the solution.

Photo Credit: istockphoto.com

Filed in: Client News