How to Turn Negativity Around from a Position of Leadership

A cycle of negativity can be one of the toughest to break, particularly in our professional circles. For leaders, dealing with negative people can be especially draining. They can steal the life, joy, and motivation out of what you’re trying to accomplish.

However, we have to be careful when we’re at the top, trying our best to guide and lead negative, discouraged people. It can be easy to see them as burdensome, but focusing on the bad attitudes around you will only mire you down as well.

Learning how to handle a negative atmosphere—turning it around rather than just enduring it—is one of the key qualities in a great leader.


Top Tips for Transforming Negativity in the Workplace

1) Don’t ignore the offending behavior.

One of the mistakes we make as leaders is ignoring negativity in the workplace. We may fall into this trap for a variety of reasons. It can fall to:

Disengagement—we don’t see the negative behavior because we are not paying attention. We are too wrapped up in our own work and own endeavors to notice how other team members are acting and reacting to the situations around them.

Uncertainty—we chalk up acts of negativity to a “one-time thing” that won’t continue. However, negative attitudes often snowball and spread. We choose not to address negative behavior without considering how a few negative feelings, remarks, or sentiments can fester and cause morale as a whole to drop over time.

So how do we best address negativity in the workplace? It starts with context. This is where you, as a boss or manager must do your due diligence. What professional or personal circumstances have led to these negative sentiments? Are they stemming from circumstance or has this behavior always been below the surface?

Be careful not to make assumptions or build up a narrative based only on the surface. What you see is likely not the full picture.

Once you have identified where they negative behavior is coming from, prepare to address it. Negativity can drain the morale of a team quickly—make note of the impact it is having or could have and prepare your plan to approach and rectify the situation.

2) Invest in a culture of autonomy.

When negativity is in the air, one temptation we may face is to emphasize teamwork and togetherness. While this is important—a unified front and progress can help recover morale—individual autonomy can recover individual morale and a sense of progress and positivity in the long-term.

Why is this? While teamwork is great, helping your team achieve their potential on an individual level is more fulfilling in the long-term. For your employees and coworkers to feel happy and accomplished in the long-term, they need this autonomy.

Negativity can creep in when people feel as though they have no forward momentum to reach their potential. Encouraging personal growth and autonomy—and recognizing individual work and effort—maintains a spirit of positivity and investment.

3) Acknowledge and respect negative sentiments.

An issue we can run into as leaders trying to wrestle with a negativity epidemic is sweeping it under the rug. If we try to make “negativity-free zones” what we end up with is not a lack of negativity, but negativity and resentment combined.

It’s critical that we acknowledge and validate the feelings that come with failures, disappointments, and even bad days. We need to be open and honest about negativity—not in a way that encourages it, but a way that understands that the feelings are real and need to be dealt with in healthy and productive ways.

This, instead of squashing negativity, encourages working through it for positive outcomes. You are not a leader who ignores problems, you address them head-on.

4) Model the behavior you wish to see.

We take cues from those we look up to, consciously and unconsciously. As the leader, it is your job to model the behavior you want your team to reflect. Dealing with negativity can be tough, but it’s your job to fight it with positive energy. Avoid gossip, doomsday talk, and general pessimism. Be encouraging rather than critical. Be mindful of how your comments may be received.

How do you want your employees to speak to and treat one another? Model it.

5) Reinforce and reward positive behavior.

Lastly, reinforce the right behavior. When you’re dealing with a person who is negative, it can take a long time to change that behavior. Be patient. Reward them when they do well and take those small steps in the right direction.

The same can be said of your other employees—even if they haven’t fallen prey to the cycle of negativity, their acts of positivity and encouragement no doubt help to keep the atmosphere where you want it to be. Recognize and reward good actors in your midst.

What strategies do you employ to combat negativity in the workplace? Share your success stories in the comments.