Turning around negative attitudes – the organizational perspective
At one time or another, organizations develop an over-abundance of “negative energy”. Sometimes this can be linked to organizational trauma such as down-sizing, budget restraints or workload increases, but sometimes it evolves over time with no apparent triggering event. The ‘negative organization’ is characterized by increased complaining, a focus on the reasons why things can’t be done, and what seems to be a lack of hope that things will get better. It feels like the organization in stuck in mud! And, it’s contagious. Negativity will affect even the most positive employees. But here are some actions that can help.
- Ensure the management team models positive behaviour
It is obvious that if management is adopting a negative stance and using negative language, staff will follow. Don’t allow the management team to do it! Ensure it takes an explicitly positive approach with staff by showing confidence in their abilities. Expect a lot, support staff, hold them accountable, confront them and be clear and honest. Have the management team set standards for their work and relations with employees and ensure they set an example of positive behaviour.
- Acknowledge negativity
An organization can’t ignore negativity and expect it to go away. If it does not acknowledge it, then staff will feel that the managers are out of touch, and will not be confident in their abilities. Managers should acknowledge frustration and negative feelings, and not try to convince people that they shouldn’t have their negative feelings. However, when acknowledging employees’ negative feelings, there needs to be a mechanism for asking for suggestions regarding what to do about them.
- Identify the ‘positives’ in all situations
Sometimes we forget to find positives. When an employee makes an impractical solution, we are quick to dismiss the idea. Managers should be identifying efforts while positively discussing people’s ideas. Small victories should be sought and talked about. Turning a negative organization into a positive one is a result of multitude of small actions.
- Provide positive recognition – often
The management team should provide positive recognition as soon as, and whenever, good performance is identified. And positive strokes recognition should not be coupled with suggestions for improvement. Separate them. Combining them devalues the recognition for many people.
- Refrain from collusion on negativity
It is easy for managers to get caught in the general complaining and bitching, particularly in informal discussions. When faced with negative conversations, managers might consider changing the subject, commenting directly on the negative content or ask plainly what can be done about the situation (move from negative to positive slant).
It is not uncommon for organizations to go through periods of negativity. Management teams play important roles in determining if that negativity will increase, or whether the trough is relatively short. Above all, it is important to remember that it is the little things that are done, day in and day out, that make the difference.
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