Conflict Resolution

4 Tips for Handling Negativity

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People are porous—we absorb the feelings and attitudes around us. Things we often conceive of as individual and personal, such as emotions, are actually highly dependent on the people we are surrounded by. Merely watching someone engage in an action causes us to consciously or unconsciously mimic that behaviour. The simple expression of a frown or smile can cause us to interpret other people’s expressions as our own feelings.

Our tendency to be affected by others means that when we encounter negativity, it has a ripple effect on our emotions. In fact, it is often easier to catch negative emotions than positive ones. To be a positive influence, we need to exhibit repetitive positive behaviours and find ways to brush off negativity. Here are a few tips for dealing with the negativity around you so that you can contribute to a healthier, more positive workplace culture.

1. Take care of yourself first.

Similar to catching a cold, we are most vulnerable to “catching” negative emotions and attitudes when we’re feeling worn down. Eating well, getting enough sleep, and managing stress can go a long way toward helping us remain resistant to the negative effects of a difficult co-worker, client, or customer.

2. Stop wasting time on things you can’t control.

Unfortunately, many things in the workplace are outside of our control. We can’t control the economy, our coworker’s attitudes, or our client’s political views. However, we regularly waste time and energy worrying about these things, often at the expense of things we can control such as our work, attitudes, and behaviour. Don’t let things you can’t change drain you—let them go and free yourself to focus on what you can control.

3. Help and inspire others.

In addition to being impacted by others’ emotions, we can also take on the emotions we project. Doing something for a co-worker—whether that is offering a kind word of thanks or pitching in on a task—has the dual benefit of making both them and us feel good. Try and do something kind or helpful for someone else each day. You may be surprised at how your own day improves when you improve someone else’s.

4. Be productive.

I don’t just mean working diligently, but rather acting and thinking productively as well. Whining and complaining is unproductive and spreads negativity. Once we start complaining, it’s easy to slip into a slump and start feeling sorry for ourselves, which can negatively impact our own and other’s productivity and happiness. Instead of whining about our circumstances, we should do what we can to help ourselves. When you encounter negativity in any form, ask yourself: “What small thing can I do to make things better in this moment?”

Work can be stressful, and the people at work can sometimes contribute to our stress, but it is in our power to be a force for good, one small step at a time. Caring for our own well-being, learning what to mentally take on and what to leave, making time to lend a hand to others, and having a productive mindset can help us deal with the pressures at work, boost our immunity to negativity, and be a force for good in our workplace.

For more free resources, visit our resources page.


Wendy Loewen

Managing Director – ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership

Wendy is co-author of ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. This books is available on our website.

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