The Cure for the Cancer

Last week, I wrote about the plague of negativity infecting our workplaces today. This week, I’d like to offer some relief for those of you experiencing it, whether from an individual or group of people, or as a fundamentally negative person yourself.

Motivational Speaker, Jon Gordon, refers to negative people who are unwilling to develop a more positive approach to work and life, as Energy Vampires. It’s such a perfect description because they definitely do suck the life right out of businesses, meetings, teams, families, communities, and otherwise enjoyable events.

Case in point: Years ago, my childhood friend and I traveled to Spain to tour with her son who was attending college there. As we waited to board a train bound for Valencia, we experienced an American couple running up behind us with unmanageable amounts of luggage. By their tone and volume, it was hard to miss how irked they were that the train was actually ready to board a little earlier than scheduled. As we boarded, they complained about the train being hard to roll their luggage onto, the limited space for storing their luggage, and the lack of employees to attend to their predicament in a timely fashion. When the man came around to check our tickets, they poured their complaints on to him and even after he left, they continued to speak loudly about how indicative this was of everything they had experienced so far in this country on their trip.

As my friend and I sat silently in the same car surrounded by other traveling Spaniards, we exchanged looks and had no trouble silently communicating our embarrassment at the negative behavior of the quintessential “Ugly Americans” with their entitled, grumpy attitudes. They were literally sucking the positive energy out of the train car. We had to make a determined effort to pull ourselves back into the experience we intended to have regardless of theirs.

I’ve had people say to me that they were born negative. That they have always been the one to see the proverbial half-empty glass. They sometimes refer to themselves as the “realists” among us. Even going so far as to insinuate that others who see the half-full version of life, often have their heads so deep in the sand, they risk tragic future outcomes. They tell me that they are often frustrated that they are tagged as a negative person simply because they call the truth as they see it without sugar-coating it. They aren’t willing to simply smile and pretend that it will all work out or that everything that happens is good, positive, or without a fair amount of pain.

I want to be clear. The half-empty glass exists. The half-full glass exists. They co-exist together and actually create a perfect whole. Before we make any judgements about which is better, let us agree that both are real. So then, it is a choice as to which one we focus upon. But which one delivers the greatest value to the future? I believe they both do.

Speaking, hearing, and understanding the truth of a situation is vital to improving it. The half-empty perception speaks to the truth of what has happened. The half-full perception sheds light on the future possibilities.

I’d like to suggest that the most balanced approach to creating a positive work environment is not avoiding reality or hard truths but rather developing the mindset and skillsets to reframe them into positive forward momentum and a positive impact on others. If you want to create a work (or familial) environment which operates with momentum, leaves a positive footprint, and creates a mutually enjoyable environment in which we can all do our work, then here’s the LionSpeak prescription:

1. Claim it.   At your next team meeting, make the announcement, draw the boundary line, and call your people to their highest selves. Make it clear that, starting today, this company will be built on a positive work environment with the goal of creating massive forward momentum for the work you’ve come together to do. Put yourself at the front of the line and make it clear that you will be held to the same high standard as everyone else.

2. Embrace it. Love is always the answer. Making people wrong rarely is. Most negative people don’t really strive to make a negative impact, they simply haven’t had the mindset shift or skills to transform their behavior to be more positive. We’ve all been guilty of some form of negativity and probably will be again, so embrace the humanness in the room and help the team to simply reset the counters and reach for a higher bar for themselves and others. Jon Gordon tells of a sign posted on the door of a team member at the company, Seventh Generation, which reads, “Energy Vampires Welcome. Expect to be filled up with positive energy.”

3. Define it.  Make a list together of what negativity looks like in your environment as well as alternative behaviors. For example:

Shooting down ideas
Alternative: Create or adopt a brainstorming system to create a list of unjudged ideas followed separately by listing positive aspects of each idea along with potential challenges and necessary elements for success.
> Unresolved conflicts or feelings
Alternative: learn and commit to a system for addressing disagreements and conflicting opinions.
> Complaining, blaming, gossiping
Alternative: create a code of conduct which you all sign and to which you all agree, as well as practicing non-judgmental, positive responses to those who engage in this behavior in the future.

4. Manage it. Our experience is that teams who take a courageous, honest, and clear approach to changing a negative culture, don’t have difficulty getting the majority of people on board quickly. When people do break the code and the rules, don’t wait to address it. Decide if the infraction can be positively called out in public and corrected (as in a friendly reminder of our commitments) or whether it requires a more direct approach in private. For those very few outliers who doggedly hold on to their negative ways, you must be prepared to cut them loose. Our experience is that when the entire team is committed, most people who are proud of or righteous about their negativity will take themselves out of the team on their own. It’s uncomfortable and practically impossible for true negativity to survive in the bright light of a positive culture.

5. Enjoy it.  The rewards of building a positive work environment is experienced in the smiling, happy faces who greet you, the infectious creativity unleashed in meetings, the resilience in the face of adversity and setbacks, the confidence of working on a team who’s got your back, and the joy in successfully bringing the good work you were all called to do to a world which desperately needs it… and knowing you did it together as one positive, unstoppable team of positive professionals.


“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”
~~Mahatma Gandhi

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