It happened to me the other day. As a practicing RN, I take shifts at a local, acute care psychiatric hospital.
So one day, I work with Nurse Mattie, we’ll call her. We don’t usually work together. But from the moment
the shift began during morning report, she complains, making little comments about how she hates this
and, "why did they accept this patient? I hate this place. Oh that person is horrible. I hate her".
You know the type…
I do not get sucked in. I stay away as best I can and focus on my work – I’m there to do a job, make a
difference and make some money, right? So I focus on that. I make small positive comments that support
the people she is verbally bashing – I do not gossip but rather look for the good in others and offer that as a
possibility to someone so skilled at seeing the negative in everything.
I carry an invisible shield that protects me from her "spears of anger and arrows of hate".
But perhaps, I do not say enough to get her to stop or to notice how she is behaving.
By the end of the day, I find myself angry. Very angry.
It took some time – lots of deep breaths – and some mental processing to realize that, after being bombarded
for eight hours with her moaning, groaning and complaining, it got to me. My shield did not sustain the
While I was able to recuperate fairly quickly, it was easy to see how this could eat a person alive if it
happened everyday. Little by little, the goodness in you would be zapped. And you would turn into
an angry, unhappy, stressed out person who either succumbs to it by doing/saying nothing and letting it eat
you away inside, or you become like her noticing the negative in everything too.
Working in a negative environment offers you the opportunity to develop your leadership muscles forcing
you to be more assertive about how others can communicate in your presence, expressing directly what is
acceptable behavior and what you will tolerate vs. what you will not tolerate.
Here are six steps to help you when working in a negative environment:
1. Strengthen your shield
Strengthen your "shield". Nothing is personal. No matter what other people do, it is not about
you. You may have an emotional reaction to what someone does, but control your emotions. Use the
emotion as information and choose your response appropriately.
2. Develop your self-control
Manage your emotions and use the information to speak up or to
change yourself in some way.
3. Develop your boundaries and ask for what you need
Be more assertive! When someone
does or says something inappropriate, you must address it – your silence gives the behavior
permission. If you want to create a more positive environment, especially as a leader, you have to
speak up! There are two things to do:
If you don't want people to gossip or speak
negatively about others, then tell them to stop. When you refuse to gossip or to allow it in
your presence, you develop a reputation as someone who is respectful and you gain the trust
of others. If, however, you are willing to tolerate the poor behavior of others, then it will
continue and it will continue to do damage in terms of morale, decreased productivity, and
even increased turnover. It’s your (everyone's!) responsibility to create a positive workspace
and to squash negativity.
- Tell people what you don't want.
Tell people what isacceptable. Ask for what you need from others and teach them
expectations for how people are to be treated. People don't always know how to do things
4. Be a role model for positivity
What we think about and talk about and focus on all day, every
day, is what we bring about. If you want to create a positive, healthy, constructive work environment,
then it starts with you – stop talking negatively, and start thinking and talking positively. Don’t
tolerate negative talk – no rumors, gossip, blaming or complaining. If it is not a meaningful,
purposeful and beneficial conversation, don't have it. Do start looking for what is good in everyone
and everything. And shower people with praise and appreciation! You will be surprised at the
response in people, especially over time. When you look for what is good, other people start to do the
same. Just as negativity is contagious, so is positivity. Give it time, though. Old wounds take time to
heal and old habits take time to change.
5. Develop your leadership skills and share a vision for a better future
People want to be
lead - in the absence of leadership, people will do whatever they know how to do. It's often easier to
put others down in order to feel better about yourself. But I can only put you down to the extent that
I feel bad about myself. If I love and respect myself, I won't be disrespectful to you. As a leader, you
take a stand for what is good and share a vision that people can get excited about. Share it loud and
clear, enough times, and it will catch on.
6. Evaluate Your Commitment to Your Work
In other words, you may have to work in order to
support yourself and your family, but you don't have to work there. If it is really bad and you are
surrounded by this kind of negativity, you might decide that your health is more important than
this job and find another place to perform your skills in an environment more conducive to respect,
professionalism and bringing out your best.
When you start taking responsibility for the quality of your workplace and the impact it has on you, then you
can start to create a different outcome. When you start to make changes in yourself to be more assertive and
to be more positive, you will start to be treated with greater respect.
When I work with Mattie again, I know I will need to develop a thicker shield and I will speak up more
directly to ask her to stop. Life is too short. I choose to take shifts and do so there because I enjoy it; and I will
not tolerate the negativity. I don't get paid for that.
Julie Fuimano-Donley, RN, MBA, CSAC is named one of the TOP 100 THOUGHT LEADERS in personal leadership development. Your happiness and success is her business! Her coaching clients experience dramatic and profound results in their productivity, level of confidence, and their relationships. As a certified coach, accomplished writer, and motivational speaker, Julie empowers your personal best and teaches you simple, practical tools for meeting your goals, communicating effectively with others, and enjoying yourself at work and at home.
to learn more about working with Julie or contact Julie@NurturingYourSuccess.com to have her speak at your next meeting or conference. Subscribe to her blog at www.NurturingYourSuccessBlog.com.
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