The Cancer of Negativity

Negativity. The terminal cancer of workplace culture.

Negativity is like a microscopic germ placed in a warm petri dish. Nestled in an environment with no defenses preemptively built in, it will grow, multiply, and spread so silently and slowly that it’s almost unnoticeable to others until… it’s deadly.

When a workplace has a tolerance for people who exhibit negativity, they become the unwittingly rich environment for bad things to germinate and take control. No one would say they want or support negativity or that it has a positive effect on any workplace. So why do we see it everywhere?

Well, first… what exactly qualifies as negativity? Here are some descriptors from the dictionary:

~ Unpleasant       ~ Disagreeable     ~ Gloomy             ~ Pessimistic
~ Unfavorable     ~ Hostile                ~ Disparaging     ~ Malicious
~ Opposition       ~ Resistance          ~ Negation

At LionSpeak, when we observe negativity in the workplace, we typically experience it as pessimism, passive aggressiveness, whining, complaining, gossiping, blaming others, and the constant shooting down of ideas without any alternative contributions. It also shows up physically as sour faces, rolling eyes, low energy, and mumbling under the breath.

If you think about it, being negative is lazy. Being negative means you don’t have to come up with any good ideas, you don’t have to take any responsibility for changing the status quo, you get to play the part of the victim, and you don’t have to muster any courage to handle unresolved conflicts or feelings.

When low energy, disconnection, and mumbling under the breath become the norm in a company… the business will suffer in countless ways. Clients notice and when they do, you will too… in bad or non-existent reviews, low sales acceptance, broken appointments, and low or no referrals. And, it’s a vicious cycle. So often when this occurs, we blame the economy, our industry, or our competition instead of the root cause.

During the last recession, many businesses suffered but some thrived. At LionSpeak, we observed an interesting commonality. The suffering in businesses was commensurate with the level of negativity, blame, and pessimism allowed to fester within a team. The thriving within businesses was also commensurate with the level of positivity, creativity, and optimism which was truly alive and maintained consistently within the team. And, there was one more important observation: Those teams that never missed a beat were the ones that had the strongest muscles already when it came to positivity. They didn’t start when the recession hit… they were already primed and ready. It was already a strong corporate value and a way of life.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore how to combat negativity in a positive way for all involved. But, for this week… know this: Extracting negativity in all it’s forms and with all it’s debilitating outcomes starts at the very top. The bottom line is that the leader of the team or organization must make it crystal clear and non-negotiable that negativity will not be tolerated or accepted. Period. And, then the real work begins in shaping your people and providing them with the mindsets, skill sets, tool sets, and support to do better once they know better. You’ll be surprised at the astounding turnarounds when the petri dish of your work environment no longer supports the germs of negativity and only fosters positive behaviors and attitudes.


“I think that life is difficult. People have challenges. Family members get sick,
people get older, you don’t always get the job or the promotion that you want.
You have conflicts in your life. And really, life is about your  
resilience and your
ability to go through your life and all of the ups and downs with a positive attitude.” 

~Jennifer Hyman

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