How to Save Yourself from Office Negativity

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I love many things about my job. The agency has a meaningful and worthwhile mission that I believe in. I share a mutual respect with my supervisor. I enjoy real friendships with a few of my coworkers and professionally appreciate many more. There are perks to my job: I can work from home sometimes, I’m off every other Friday, and I can exercise during business hours. And of course there are the actual benefits like health insurance and a retirement plan.

However, sometimes there is an undertow of pessimism in the office that drags me out into a sea of negativity. Once I’m so far gone, I feel stuck in a place I don’t want to be. A negative place. How can I save my generally cheerful disposition from drowning in office negativity?

First, allow me to clarify what I mean by office negativity as it is an imprecise term. For me, it is deeper than a coworker rolling his/her eyes as someone interjects a thought for the tenth time in as many minutes. It’s on another level than the audience members checking their phones during a presentation. It seems to stem from a lack of respect for one another, not as coworkers, but as people. While it can’t be measured, if you have ever described your work environment as being like high school, you might want to keep reading.

If you find yourself in this situation, the key is to save yourself. But how do you do that?

1. Remember you can only control your own contributions. This might be the best advice I’ve been given on this topic. It’s simple enough. Am I making positive contributions to the office? How am I reacting to people? If I’m rolling my eyes or making comments under my breath, I’m probably not putting my “glass is half full” foot forward.

2. Stay openly positive. This is also known as “fake it ‘til you make it.” If your positivity is being swept away, smile more. Compliment people. Write down three things that are great about your day, even if it’s the weather, what you’re having for lunch, or that you made the train this morning. Focusing on the positive, no matter how seemingly insignificant, will keep your focus off the negative.

3. Surround yourself with positivity. Seek out positive people. Eat lunch or go on walks with them. Decorate your space with objects, photos, and quotes that make you smile. Listen to music that brings you joy.

4. Remind yourself why you started. When I am overwhelmed with negativity, I think back to when I was first in this position and I had trouble sleeping because I was so excited for the next day. I was making an impact. By bringing that excitement and motivation into my daily life, I can submerge myself in work I enjoy instead of the drama that sometimes builds in an office.

5. Choose your battles. Not every thought I have should be voiced. Before I speak up, I ask myself, “What do I want as an outcome from this conversation?” If my answer is to prove someone wrong or belittle an idea then I consider staying quiet.

6. Don’t be afraid to speak up. In my own experiences, people have not elevated this to a supervisor as it is an undercurrent that runs through the office as opposed to someone’s specific action or inaction. However, problems may need to be addressed by a person higher up in the organization. If you think that is necessary for your situation, then you should do so.

Obviously every office is different and every person is different. These are the strategies I have used to maintain my positivity when the people around me are stuck in a pessimistic rut. The last thing I want is to let negativity mold me into exactly what I don’t want to be: a negative person.

Since everyone has his/her own approaches to combat office negativity, please inspire others by sharing those below!

Jocelyn is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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19 Comments

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Trish Haskins

I agree. It is very difficult to state your case while trying to stay neutral. I find myself often avoiding uncomfortable conversations or situations altogether. Im not a complainer.

Profile Photo David Carr

This is great advice. Working in a government office can be a very negative thing for some. I try to stay positive by not participating in office gossip and being helpful to colleagues across the agency.

Jocelyn

Hello, Jocelyn, this is Jocelyn.
Great article. There are so many times this happens in the offices that I’ve worked. When I was ignorant of the power I have, and or the wisdom in which to circumvent these situations, I would get so worked up. Now, I practice using emotional intelligence no matter the situation. And, I’m a much happier, healthier employee because of it.

Profile Photo Jocelyn

Hey Jocelyn! Isn’t it awesome when we realize that we control our attitudes much more than we thought? I’m working on reminding myself of that more regularly.

Nena Roberts

My personal rule in dealing with negativity is to speak to Negative Nellie or Ned in a way I wish to be spoken to and do this in front of other co-workers. It may not change the negative person, but it changes me and sets a tone with my other co-workers.
Thanks for the article. This is a topic that needs to be discussed and dealt with. Good job!

Profile Photo Aaron Winchester

Definitely a timely article for me personally. Right now my biggest focus is working on your #1 bullet. Besides working on what I can control I am trying to positively cope with what I can’t control. Choosing how to react to what is dealt can be a steep hill to climb but is doable.

Alan T

A very good article. Being positive can be hard at times but always remember to support oneself in a positive way. I see many, unfortunately, coworkers suffer through the agony of self defeat. I am always trying to lift spirits and I am blessed to be in pursuit of a positive life at work and away. I see this as controlling my own contribution which is your number one and two focus.’
I also try to always remember that my opinion is not the only one, as well as my reality is from my personal view which is not readily shared with others. Most verbal hostility I see is opposing or parallel views that should be reviewed and assessed for acceptance and supported as an alternative solution. I think your Don’t be afraid to speak up, even though your focus is addressing problems possibly through organizational ladder, I have been know to spin arguments back to positive soil by supporting both views and getting people to open their eyes to other possibilities. Another way is using open focus versus narrow or tunneled focus which shelters ones viewpoint but does not allow reflection on other.
This is a great topic and needed in may areas

Becky Raymond

My retired boss (I miss him!) used to give talks to community groups on “Thermostats or Thermometers”. The jist of it is this: do you want your environment (ie: workplace negativity) to control you, or do you want to control your environment (and your attitude/behavior)? Thermometer, or thermostat? It’s a choice we each can make every day.

Dawn HIggins

I like Becky’s comment about Thermometer or Thermostat. It makes so much sense. Let’s all try to be thermostats.

Profile Photo Jocelyn

There are definitely different ways to speak up, depending on what you’re comfortable with. Kudos to you for being able to deescalate situations like that; more offices could use people with that skill.

Anna Williams

Foremost, non-smile walk away. I have often found that one of the underlying reasons employees feel negative, Or rather potentially underappreciated or Ina knowledged. Often stems from a lack of positive feedback for their diligence and contributions. I have found that it is imperative to provide feedback to the people I work with both positive and negative. I’m not going to lie and say that I have made undergraduate and graduate students cry in doing so… this does not result from the message I’m delivering or how I’m delivering the words, many are not accustomed to receiving negative feedback at a young age. Yeah, no matter what message is conveyed I always provide positive feedback regarding things that colleagues and/or anyone being supervised does well. From failure individuals often feel humility, which subsequently is how we grow and change. The other important aspect to remember is that just because someone is in a funk doesn’t mean that it’s your fault you’re just the one in front of the individual that feeling bad. Thus, I remove myself from the situation whether I’m in a foul mood or I’m on the receiving end prior to the situation escalating

Anna Williams

Foremost, non-smile walk away. I have often found that one of the underlying reasons employees feel negative, Or rather potentially underappreciated or Ina knowledged. Often stems from a lack of positive feedback for their diligence and contributions. I’m not going to lie and say that I have Vaseline on my teeth as a contestant in a beauty pageant with a perpetual smile and and peaches and cream…but regardless of the message or situation being addressed positive and negative feedback are conveyed. Recall, failure & often humility which perpetuates growth and change. Also, someone in a funk is not attributed to being your fault just the closest in proximity. Prior to a catfight or brawl, completely unprofessional that does occur and words are said they can’t be taken back justified or not, yet situational removal is important whether the fellow mood is emulating from you or someone else.

Pam Boynes

Great article – I wish there was a “print” function on the site so I could put this on my wall as a frequent reminder.

Carol

This was a well-written article, however I noticed that you begin by mentioning that you have “mutual respect with my supervisor.” I think it makes a difference when the source of poor morale radiates down from an organization’s managers and supervisors — when as you say, managers exhibit “a lack of respect for one another, not as coworkers, but as people.” What are ways to cope when managers do not respect their colleagues, much less the employees that they oversee?