There is much talk around the need for positivity in the workplace, and I am here to tell you it is all true! Moods and attitudes spread like wildfire, and all it takes is one bad apple left unattended to spoil the whole work environment. What can make it even worse is two bad apples who inspire each other to lower and lower depths of negativity. This kind of poisonous environment can have repercussions that ripple through an organization like a a boulder tossed into an otherwise pristine and peaceful lake.
I share here a personal story of mine that illustrates how easily this can happen and how it can affect a person completely unrelated to the negative situation. Many years ago, I found myself sitting in the middle of a sea of cubicles. I had direct access to my coworkers on every side for what seemed like miles and miles. Great for communication, and, unfortunately, the perfect environment for spreading negativity.
Over the wall in one direction sat a lady who was highly talented, highly opinionated, and who had a difficult job. Her job involved working directly on the phone with customers who often needed education, explanations, and assistance. Across the aisle from her sat another talented, opinionated lady who also had a difficult job. Her job involved interacting with these customers in a different capacity, evaluating their suitability for our product.
The problems began when these two ladies discovered that they held similar opinions about these customers. One would complain about a recent phone call, how “stupid” the customer had been. The other would agree, and then share a different story about a worse phone call with an even “dumber”customer. The first, sensing the competition, would then remember another situation that was even worse than that! For some reason, these ladies had an inordinate amount of time to talk (surprising given the number of terrible or ridiculous phone calls they purported to have taken), and this back and forth would continue throughout the day, day after day.
Sitting over the wall from this I never once participated in these conversations, mostly because I was not invited to participate. But I took the negativity with me. I remember being very upset leaving work every day and having no clear understanding of why. I hated work even while I loved my job and loved my company. Sometimes I was driven to tears on the drive home. This went on for some time. At some point someone must have finally noticed what was going on because without any explanation, the two women were separated.
I remember the next day as clearly as if it had happened yesterday. It felt as if the sun had come out from behind the clouds. The birds were chirping and even the air smelled sweeter. The heavy cloak of negativity was obliterated and the entire atmosphere was different. I drove home happy and smiling from work that day and each day after (well, most days anyway). Others took longer to recover, but for me the relief was instantaneous.
It took a little bit of time and distance to understand what had happened and what had caused the change. Fortunately I stuck around long enough to get past the negativity, but I know others who left, who could not tolerate such a toxic environment. What a shame. To think it all stemmed from the conversation between two women complaining back and forth about their customers is rather incredible and should serve as a lesson to all leaders.
We need to pay attention to the atmosphere in our workplaces. We need to look for negativity, we need to take seriously any signs of it, and we must actively and expediently dispel it. The consequences of not acting are dire. Good talent will leave, productivity will decline, and the negativity will spread. Recovering from such a situation can be a lengthy and painful ordeal, and can result in more turmoil before the negativity is fully eliminated.
Even better idea – promote positivity! Every day and in every way you can.
Happy Thursday, and keep it positive and smile!