Mindful Solutions for Handling the Office Haters

What feeds negative emotions at work and how to help your team develop a more positive mindset.

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A mindset increasingly prevalent in today’s workplace that infects other team members’ motivation and drive is a negative attitude. In order to learn how to influence an employee’s negative outlook, it is important to first understand its origins. In an article published in the The Journal of Organizational Development, researchers determined three major internal events that feed negative emotions in the office:

1)             perceptions of an insecure future

2)             perceptions of inadequate treatment by the employer

3)             perceptions of inadequate working conditions

Obviously, as a leader you cannot control how an employee perceives or interprets communication and events. But you can influence how they respond, and offer up mindful solutions and tools so they are more prepared in the future to respond differently. The more open, positive, enthusiastic and accountable you are as a leader, you can provide the conditions for that same attitude to permeate the workplace.

Meet Haley, the Company Hater

Haley starts work at 7 am in a dark cubicle. When her team members get in she doesn’t bother to say hello or good morning. During meetings she frowns, keeps her arms crossed, and focuses on problems instead of solutions.

Research shows that employees feel emotionally drained after experiencing or witnessing sour interactions between co-workers.

She perpetually engages in office gossip and complains that employees in other departments are slowing down the effectiveness of her work. She blames her boss for an excessive workload and impossible deadlines. She rationalizes her complaints by stating that other co-workers have fewer projects than her and that their deadlines are more generous. Haley’s grumpy attitude drags other team members down. People are growing tired of her constant negative rhetoric. Her manager is aware of this but is unsure of how to change it.

Employees like Hayley impact other team members’ energy levels and motivation. A study published in 2012 showed that employees felt emotionally drained after experiencing or witnessing sour interactions between co-workers, versus pleasant and positive ones. So, how are you to keep yourself and your team positive while managing the negative attitudes of employees like Hayley? And, how can you create a culture that fosters accountability for personal attitudes and behavior?

5 Simple Ways to Refocus Negative Team Members

Leading by example is the place to start but as a leader you have to be able to impact organizational culture. That is done primarily through embodying, promoting, and rewarding traits that others can model.

  • Practice transparent communication. Blame, complaining, and justification comprise a perpetual negative outlook. As behaviors, they reinforce a victim mentality and immature organizational culture. The verbal expressions of blame, complaint, and justification can waste time, and generally attract further unwanted conditions. According to a recent study published in the Human Resource Executive magazine, around one third of US employees waste more than 20 hours of work time complaining about their bosses. Per month. Open and transparent communication, better listening skills, and pro-active relationship management can help everyone on the team galvanize that energy toward improved company culture and better morale.
  • Don’t encourage victimhood over personal power. Claiming or promoting innocence is never a smart option. Instead, help team members choose to empower themselves. Even if it means taking responsibility for an error or wrongdoing, something especially encouraged in effective and innovative work environments. In many cases, victimhood is a personal perception of another’s harmful intent, especially when it involves superiors in a workplace setting as explained in a 2012 article on victim perception. Victimhood won’t win sympathy points in the office as everyone is working hard to achieve goals. In fact, it does just the opposite. Co-workers will see right through a tendency to evade responsibility and ultimately their respect for the culture and team will corrode.
  • Return the team spirit to the present. Instead of fixating on yesterday’s failures and letting that experience frame today’s reactions, actively ask people to release previous impressions and beliefs. For example, you could simply remind people at the start of the meeting that it’s a new day. With that comes the opportunity for a fresh perspective on the tasks at hand. Choose to be open to whatever happens in the present moment. Your current CEO might not fire everyone on the team after a low sales quarter like your previous employer did; however, if you fixate on the idea that the same painful experiences will repeat themselves, a negative mindset emerges that encourages self-fulfilling prophecies. You’re more likely to repeat the same situations again due to expectancy.
  • Seek out and articulate the positive. Happiness is an active choice. Or, as Abraham Lincoln once said: “Most people are about as happy as they make their minds to be.” Yes, genetics, brain structure, and external factors play into our happiness, but so does a positive mental outlook. An increase in positive emotions and self-perception is achieved through positive psychology interventions. The results from a meta-analysis of 51 interventions with 4,266 participants revealed that PPIs, or positive psychology interventions, effectively decrease depressive symptoms and increase your sense of positive well-being. Do the work and help your team seek out the positive.

If negative thoughts arise don’t fight them, let them go by returning to the present moment and reframe them with positive thought. For example: Haley complains in a caustic tone about starting work at 7am and being “in the cubicle before sunrise.” Instead, Haley reframes her outlook by saying “Since I rise early I am able to leave work by 4 pm, I can enjoy three hours of sunshine and have fun doing activities outdoors.” Always ask team members to seek out and share an empowering, joyful perspective that reframes a negative thought.

  • Create opportunities to express gratitude. Help yourself and others by shifting focus to what works in life and appreciating it. Creating a personal culture of gratitude and appreciation can dispel doubts and negativity in your environment. This allows the team to shift their perspective on life and work as well.

A simple tool: ask the members of the team to reflect on the past day, week, or month and think about three people who have helped them during that time. Maybe they have done something for them that they could not have done for themselves. Maybe they said something helpful or insightful. Or they just listened and acted as a sounding board. Have your team sit for a few minutes and notice the feelings that emerge when one focuses on someone’s kind and generous contributions. Help them acknowledge the interdependence between the team’s current level of well-being and success, and the generosity and contribution of those around. That will help open everyone’s eyes to the natural reality of the giving economy and dispel the gloom.

When you adopt these simple tools into workplace culture and lead a team both by example, good coaching and clear expectation, you will start to notice a shift in the energy of the office. Employees begin to mature, productivity increases, people are happier, less stressed, and everyone sees those contagious smiles more often. The more open, positive, enthusiastic, clear and accountable you are as a leader, the more that mindfulness will radiate through your company culture.

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