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Negativity: How to know if you're "that person"

“I'm not negative, I just tell it like it is. I call things as I see them.”


How many times have you been around someone that tries to sugarcoat their negativity in the guise of honesty, or "being realistic"?

Are you guilty of letting a negative comment or a full-blown negative attitude slide, justifying it with some sort of excuse (I'm tired, I'm stressed, I'm the only one who...)?

Generally speaking, negativity is a tendency to be downbeat, disagreeable, and skeptical. It's a pessimistic attitude that always expects the worst (1). It may manifest as disrespect, blame, efforts to "stir up" things, long term discontent, frequent critical comments, and a lack of enthusiasm for the efforts of others.

Is that someone you know? Is it you?

Negativity may seem like an inescapable part of life, but it can have a devastating effect when it seeps into the workplace. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that U.S. companies lose $3 billion a year to the effects of negative attitudes and behaviors at work (2). One report says 96% of American workers have experienced work incivility, 48% say it happens at least weekly, and 12% say they left their jobs because of it (3).

Negativity not only impacts the overall organization, but it also impacts the employees themselves by impacting stress levels, health state, and sense of well-being. Isn't it a miserable feeling to get nauseated every Sunday night at the thought of going to work the next day, or to wake up at 3 a.m. worrying about work?

If this is all too familiar, it's time to tackle workplace negativity. First you must understand the "why", to understand the "how" of fixing it...


Why is this happening?

External factors

  1. Large workloads

  2. High stress

  3. Lack of communication

  4. Poor job fit

  5. Personal stressors

  6. Lack of sleep

Internal factors

  1. Perception of events and people

  2. Personality style

  3. Lack of ability to set healthy and appropriate boundaries

  4. Communication and/or conflict resolution style

  5. Failure to be well-balanced, taking care of one’s self mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

How can we fix the problem?

  1. Develop an understanding of things that should be spoken and things that should not. Ask yourself the following questions to determine if your thoughts should be conveyed to others:

  • How important is this topic to me (0-10)?

  • Have I done my part to fix the problem?

  • Am I bringing the problem up with someone who has the ability to impact change?

  • Is my motivation bettering the situation, or getting others to commiserate with me?

  • Am I just complaining, or am I offering positive solutions for change?

  • Am I complaining to fit in, because everyone seems to be doing it?

  • Is the issue I’m complaining about current and on-going or has it been resolved and I just haven’t let it go?

  1. Better your communication and attempts at conflict resolution.

  2. Work on your life-work balance.

  3. Check your perception of people and events -- Are you getting all the facts from the right sources? Are you giving people (including management) the benefit of the doubt?

  4. Are you showing respect for others and setting boundaries to respect yourself?

  5. Have you done any of the available "whole person assessments" to really understand yourself? Assessments like the DISC, Emotional Quotient, and Stress Assessment can identify your own communication and behavior styles, motivations, and emotional triggers and that of your fellow employees as well. These have the ability to completely transform your outlook and understanding of others, helping everyone avoid negativity and enjoy the work and people around you.


For more information on the tools available to organizations and businesses to help combat negativity in the workplace, call or email Nikki Penn Consulting for a free consultation.


  2. Topchik, G. S. (2000). New York: AMACOM

  3. Pearson, C. & Porath, C. (2009). The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It. London: Penguin Books LTD.

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