Wellbeing & Health

Neutralizing negativity in the workplace

3 Mins read

Neutralizing negativity in the workplace is important because it is one of the most common, and deeply ingrained, obstacles to a healthy work environment. When working with front-line employees, supervisors, and mid-level managers in a variety of industries, I’m often asked, “What can I do to create more positive interactions in my workplace? People are so negative here!”

At Appreciation at Work, our focus is on building positive, healthy relationships in the workplace, and we do this primarily by helping people learn how to communicate authentic appreciation, build trusting relationships, and relate to others in a respectful way. But we also have to deal with life as it exists, and another avenue to building positive relationships is to address the issues that interfere with that process.

Negativity: What is it, really?

Believe it or not, the term negativity does not mean the same thing to everyone or display itself consistently in all work settings. Each facility, or even departments within a facility, can be negative in different ways. So, before neutralizing the negativity in the workplace, the first step is to define: “What does negativity look like in your work setting?”

In getting feedback from supervisors and employees, we came up with a long list of common behaviors and characteristics.


Where Negativity Comes From

A variety of factors create negative reactions, and they often result from a combination of issues. One of the most frequently ignored set of factors are physiological ones. While it becomes obvious once mentioned, we need to remember that we are more likely to react with negative behavior when we are tired, hungry, or thirsty or when we generally don’t feel well (for example we have a headache or lower backpain).

However, when our expectations are not met, it is likely the most common source of negative reactions. We get angry when what we think should happen doesn’t, or when something does happen that we think shouldn’t.

So, if a team member is consistently displaying negative reactions in the workplace, it is quite likely that they are experiencing a mismatch between their expectations and what they are experiencing in their day-to-day work life. This issue seems to be growing due to increasingly unrealistic expectations many have about what work should be like.

How to Begin to Neutralize Negativity

What can be done? Do you just have to accept the level of negativity expressed in your workplace?

No, you don’t have to resort to walking on eggshells, waiting for someone to explode, or try to avoid colleagues who seem angry most of the time. Nor do you have to endure the seemingly endless complaining, grumbling and cynical comments made by others.

We do not have the power to change others’ attitudes, and often we have minimal ability to shape their behaviors. But each of us do have the capability to influence those we work with on a daily basis. Here are three practical steps to begin with:

Don’t engage in the negative. When others are complaining, keep quiet. If a group is gossiping about another team member, just walk away. When someone acts in a hostile way toward you, respond appropriately and calmly. Don’t add to the negative energy others are displaying.

Contribute to the positive. A positive comment is like throwing water on a fire trying to get started. Smile. Make a humorous (non-cutting) comment. Tell someone thanks for a job done well. Comment on how nice the weather is or being thankful for air conditioning. A little positivity and gratefulness can douse a developing “negativity wildfire.”


Explore your and others’ expectations and compare them with reality. Examine whether people’s expectations are reality-based. (Tip: It is best to start with yourself rather than others.) Compare your situation with other situations worse than yours and see how that impacts your perspective. Consider doing some in-service training with staff on what realistic and unrealistic expectations are for their jobs and workplace.

Unfortunately, negative attitudes and behaviors seem to reign in many workplaces. But don’t let others dominate and take control of your workplace environment. Each person can begin to take steps to help create a more positive workplace and neutralizing negativity in the workplace. Most importantly, when employees work together to do so, a far healthier workplace culture can develop.

More helpful resources for dealing with negativity can be found in our books Rising Above a Toxic Workplace and The Vibrant Workplace: Overcoming the Obstacles to Building a Culture of Appreciation.

Further Reading:

How does AI help HR?
Introverted Employees: How to Manage Them
Working Remotely and Productivity: Interesting Insights

2 posts

About author
Dr. Paul White is a psychologist, speaker, and leadership expert who “makes work relationships work.” He is the coauthor of the best-selling book, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, which has sold over 575,000 copies.
Related posts
Wellbeing & Health

Here’s How to Maintain Work-Life Balance as a Busy HR Manager

4 Mins read
Being an HR manager doesn’t mean that you have to worry about management all the time and compromise on your life. You have to become a “role model” of work-life balance if you want to boost the productivity of your employees and live to the fullest. 
Wellbeing & Health

4 ways to make mental wellbeing support accessible at work

6 Mins read
Poor mental wellbeing is costing business £56 billion per year, while mental wellness issues cause over half of all sick days.
Wellbeing & Health

How to Address Healthcare Issues and Risks in the Workplace?

5 Mins read
Ways to address healthcare issues and risks in the workplace definitely vary, but managers at the top usually set the criteria.
Get a selection of the best & newest articles straight to your inbox.


Subscribing to Employee Experience Magazine provides you with exclusive insights and updates from the world of EX. Be the first to get the updates and exclusive stories and offers.