Dealing With Workplace Negativity


Workplace NegativityHave you ever found yourself in an unpleasant situation at work and instead of speaking up about it, you kept things to yourself? Do you remember how that made your feel? Angry? Perhaps frustrated? Maybe even trapped? What did you do about it?

In most cases, many employees and/or managers may choose to remain silent about the issues confronting them instead of dealing with or reaching out for help in dealing with the situation constructively. Although the particular person choosing to remain silent may not be the cause of the negativity, they’ve now compounded to the issue. Whether it is because you choose not to “make waves,” or the culture in your workplace discourages it, or perhaps the negativity you are dealing with is coming from a supervisor or manager; choosing not to address the situation a) prevents other managers or leaders from dealing with the situation appropriately, b) it prevents setting solutions in place to keep the situation from reoccurring, and c) it may or may not cause you personal angst about your workplace environment.

Deal With The Situation Directly

As a young supervisor, I had recently made the transition from a military culture into a corporate setting. However, my leadership skills hadn’t kept up with the change of scenery. In the military, leaders can be very direct, confrontational, and just plain rude when it comes to providing feedback to their subordinates (i.e. “Hey Private, how about you unf*ck yourself?). Needless to say, I had a very unprofessional vocabulary at times when dealing with members of my team. One day, during a one-on-one with one of my team members, he expressed to me how my vocabulary at times made him feel uncomfortable. I quickly realized the error of my ways and worked on changing myself to be able to become a more effective leader and dispel some of that negativity that I had been creating.

Hopefully your workplace environment offers you the opportunity to have an open and honest form of communication with your superiors, peers and/or subordinates. If not, well that’s something that needs to be worked on.

I shared this particular situation because it was a great learning lesson for me, aside from the obvious reasons; I gained a respect for the employee for having the courage to confront the situation in a constructive manner, and guess what? The situation was resolved, too easy right? Well, not always.

When Directness Is Not Effective

Recently, I dealt with a situation where there was some friction between a supervisor and their subordinates. This particular supervisor was a bit “rough around the edges” to say the least. I encouraged the supervisor to have an open and honest talk with the employee(s) so that they could better understand one another in the hopes of improving their working relationship. During the course of one of their meetings as one of the employees was being honest and open about the issues that they felt that they were dealing the with, the supervisor blatantly acknowledged that they were not willing to change because their form of management was unique to their “persona” (for the purpose of this story, I’ve paraphrased!).

The first thing that came to my mind was that this particular supervisor needed some development in the social skills area. Side Note: If you’re in a supervisory/management/leadership role and one of your employees comes to you and tells you their having issues with your form of communication, and it is not in you to make the necessary changes to meet the communication needs of your team members, do everyone a favor and don’t manage people – in my book, you’re probably one of the worst types of managers out there and although you may be effective at your job, your lack of people skills probably causes more issues than you resolve.

In this particular situation, once you have tried to deal with the source of the negativity directly and it hasn’t been effective, reaching out to your next level of leadership may be the best course of action, whether that is another manager, or higher manager, or your human resources team. However; I think that it’s important for you as an employee or manager to know; that if you’re dealing with a particular character issue, don’t expect changes to be overnight. It can take an individual perhaps months or even years to be able to effectively change or fix character flaws. Yet, it’s equally important to be able to see that commitment from the employee/manager in making the change happen.

Choosing to Remain Silent

Falling back to the story about the supervisor, another employee made the conscious choice not to speak up about how this supervisor’s actions were affecting them negatively. Repressing the issues and their emotions eventually led to an “eruption” of frustration from this employee. This particular employee had been dealing with the issues without reaching out or confronting them, and in the end it created a negative work environment for them to the point where they dreaded coming to work each day.

“Find your inner voice and assertively communicate…when you feel it is in your best interest. Set limits. No one is exempt from your boundaries and you are responsible for setting limits and advocating for yourself.” – Natalie Gutierrez[1]

It’s important for you as an employee to be able to have the opportunity to communicate to your leadership how you want to be managed. That doesn’t mean asking for outlandish requests, but rather having an open discussion on your particular communication style or form of learning, etc. If you don’t speak up, you can’t expect for others to automatically know what’s wrong or how to fix it.

Organizational Effects

As a leader in your organization, it’s important for you to understand how negativity in the workplace can affect your bottom line. When issues arise and are not dealt with appropriately they begin to manifest themselves in other forms: tardiness, absenteeism, turnover; these factors have a direct cost affect on your business. Poor or no communication from or amongst your employees will directly affect the ability for your organization to be a successful one.

In an article titled “Re-Creating the Indifferent Employee” Carla Joinson talks about negative effects of employee silence. “Indifferent employees cause the organization to lose money and function poorly. Unfortunately when major monetary losses are detected in organizations, managers tend to react by trying to recover the loss, overlooking the fact employees have become indifferent as a result of unaddressed employee silence. More often than not employees who are not doing their share of the work are also not speaking up with the problems they see, leading to a perpetual cycle of employee silence.” (Joinson, 1996)

Having an effective conflict resolution model in place can help to alleviate not only the effects of workplace negativity on the employees but on the organization as a whole.

Works Cited

Joinson, C. (1996, August). Re-Creating the Indifferent Employee. HR Magazine , 41 (8), pp. 76-81.

[1] Natalie Gutierrez is a marriage and family therapist in the State of New York. She specializes in working with adults who have suffered complex trauma, domestic violence, childhood sexual abuse, and/or sexual trauma in adulthood dealing with issues related to post traumatic stress, traumatic attachment, family of origin issues, depression, anxiety, shame, guilt, and anger. For more information on Natalie and her practice Mindful Journeys MFT, visit



Categories: Employee Relations


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