man smiling outdoors

4 Ways Negativity Grows & How to Restore a Positive Work Culture

Dr. Paul Metler | 7/11/2022 7:00:00 AM

Why Negativity Grows

Negativity produces a strange paradox. Generally speaking, negativity is not an attractive quality. If you ask prospective employees what they’re looking for in their next opportunity, negativity never appears in their dream job description. Negativity does not attract top talent.

And yet, who would deny that negativity is contagious? How can something unattractive become so attractive and spread so easily? That’s the contradictory complexity of negativity.

Leaders who understand the paradoxical nature of negativity are better equipped to resist getting sucked into hostility. A basic understanding of the allure of negativity will help you learn how to resist the undertow before it infects you and spreads to your team. While there are many strategies to neutralize negativity in your culture, it’s best to begin by identifying these temptations at the personal level. 

Here are four things to remember about negativity, followed by a few practical reminders to help you choose a more positive and impactful leadership pathway.

1. Negativity grows when you feel like you have no control.

Think about the idiom used to describe someone with a grumpy disposition. “Someone got up on the wrong side of the bed.” This ancient expression has been around since the Roman Empire. It connects with a superstition that one side of the bed was the wrong side, and bad luck was sure to follow when a person began the day on the wrong side. 

Does it seem silly to give so much power to the left or right side of a bed? Maybe so, but I’ve heard this expression enough to know how important it is to admit it’s always easier to point outward toward something or someone that needs to change before I can be happy than it is to point the finger at myself. How often do you feel like circumstances that are out of your control determine whether you will have a good day or a bad day or whether you will be in a positive or negative mood? 

2. Negativity grabs your attention. 

Remind yourself how easy it is for negativity to grab your attention. Journalists, talk show hosts, and sports media outlets have understood the power of “hot takes” for a long time. Now that we live in a world of constant notifications, social media platforms and the dark side of algorithms combine to exploit the power of negativity to grab your attention. Like it or not, negative messages trend daily, and the hooks are powerful. As the steady barrage of negative messages increases, don’t ignore how it can feed your reactionary tendencies in every area of life, including relationships at work.

3. Negativity flaunts itself as more authentic than positivity. 

You’re probably quick to say that leaders must be ready to say the hard things. That’s true. Especially in times of uncertainty, you prefer a realistic assessment of a situation rather than platitudes. But, in the heat of the moment, negativity can masquerade as wisdom gleaned from past experiences. The thick skin of your experiences yields a superpower. Suddenly, you can recognize the false veneer of positivity. And then it happens. Passionate negativity erupts, and it feels so real. Recognize the temptation to treat negativity as more realistic and optimism as less authentic.

4. Negativity is easier.

For most leaders, that’s hard to swallow. Look at it through this lens. It’s easier to say, “that will never work,” than to identify obstacles and develop action plans to overcome them. It’s quicker to say “no” than to say “yes” and invest what is required to see a strategic initiative to the end. When you are stressed, fatigued, or just a little weary in general, saying what is easiest to say requires less of you than committing to do what is harder to do. A quick and easy negative assessment is so much faster than exploring nuance and taking responsibility for the energy required for what’s next. That’s why negativity can become a proverbial snowball. Once it starts rolling, it starts to grow.

Four Questions to Help You Restore a Positive Work Culture

  1. What determines my leadership? My attitude and my response or my circumstances?
  2. Where will I focus my attention? Healthy leaders develop a filter and set healthy boundaries.
  3. How will I invest my influence? My leadership thrives with authentic service that will elevate others to greater capacity.
  4. Where will my trajectory take me? Before I become a negative snowball rolling down a hill, I will ask myself what kind of life awaits me at the bottom of the hill and who I am taking with me.

Choose to live a life of purpose and reject the path of least resistance.


Photo by Fortune Vieyra on Unsplash