Mark Craemer No Comments

In your workplace you probably know a Debbie Downer or someone who is always able point out what is wrong and how the glass is really half empty.

Such a constant negative perspective can have a contagious effect on others and should be monitored so it doesn’t impede productivity throughout the organization.

Emotions, both positive and negative, can and do play a role at work even though we may think we are effectively holding them in check. This is because emotions impact our behavior—whether we want to admit it or not—and others see this behavior.

I grew up in a family where sarcasm was considered a high comedic art form. In reality, sarcasm is typically ridicule or mockery and usually used for destructive purposes. Sarcasm usually has some underlying and unexpressed emotion attached to it.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky considered sarcasm a cry of pain when he said it is “usually the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.”

In a recent Harvard Business Review post by Tony Schwartz, he wrote how the negative emotions of a new executive at his company altered the corporate culture such that the entire organization was more negative. It wasn’t that this leader was only being critical, but he was so “singularly focused on what was wrong that he lost sight of the bigger picture, including his own negative impact on others.”

This emotional contagion resulted in others taking on these same negative feelings and sapping the vital energy from the organization. Ultimately, this leader had to be let go because of the ramifications his negative outlook had on the leadership team and overall employees.

I am not advocating wearing blinders to what is wrong within an organization. Instead, it’s important to seek out what is indeed wrong and then have an optimistic vision on how to improve things in order to get to a sustainable change.

We also need to keep in mind how our behavior and attitude can impact those around us. Even though we may not feel we are being overly critical when pointing out flaws in a product design or service procedure, others may feel it is. Sometimes this is only a matter of being more tactful in our delivery.

And this is not to say I mean avoid being authentic at work. Authenticity is vital to your emotional well-being, and emotional intelligence can help you understand and regulate your emotions as well as be aware of the emotions of other people. Then you can choose how to appropriately respond to any given situation.

Negativity is a powerful force and can spread quickly throughout an organization, especially if it is the predominant emotion witnessed in leaders. Many leaders will defend this perspective as they believe it is a powerful motivator, and it may very well be for some employees and for some period of time.

But in the long run and for the majority of people, a negative perspective will suck the energy and productivity from an organization. It will reduce employee engagement and it will harm the bottom line.

Is there someone in your organization draining it of energy? Does the leader exhibit generally positive or negative emotions and how have these influenced his or her management team and the entire organization?

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