Negativity in the workplace

A drawing of a cartoon man pointing upwards

Hey there! This post was written in 2008, so it may contain information that is no longer accurate or thoughts that no longer reflect how I feel. As human beings, we're constantly learning and bettering ourselves through experiences and interactions with the world and each other.

I keep posts like this around for historical purposes and to prevent link rot, so please keep this in mind as you're reading.

— Cory

When an organization causes feelings of negativity, people handle it in a number of different ways. Detachment is the one we're going to focus on right now. Obviously, this is bad for both the organization and the individual, but the process of detachment is popular because it works really well in the short term. By detaching, a person is able to cope with extremes that would otherwise trigger intense reactions which are not only inappropriate, but devastating to their position and their reputation. Ignorance, stupidity, and incompetence are all excellent examples of these extremes.

Something I've come to realize is that this happens to me on a daily basis.

Where I used to fight the good fight, argue my points because they made sense, and pursue a greater good with the hopes that one day I'll achieve something special—something to be proud of—I no longer find myself having the energy or will to pursue those aspirations. The fun stops, anticipation fades, and life begins to suck for eight hours a day. The job I used to love becomes a job that I despise. Waking up in the morning gets a lot harder. Things that make me think of work get blocked out of my mind and forgotten until I'm forced to think about them again. This is stupid.

Detachment is interesting because it can have very comedic side effects. Sarcasm is my personal favorite, but pushing people's buttons is definitely the most satisfying way to fuel detachment. Your supervisor and the people that irritate you become your primary victims. You find ways to make things harder for them, going out of your way to ensure that they feel the full wrath of your efforts. It's humorous because they seldom realize what you're doing, and if they do they are oblivious to what's causing it. If anyone asks you if there's a problem, "of course there isn't."

I am merely a product of my environment. Without the environment, the "negativity issues" don't exist. Add the environment back in, enter issues. There is a correlation here.

For reasons I can't seem to understand, people expect the problem to be solved from the bottom up, but the problem really needs to be handled from the top down. On the lowest levels, people are generally happy. In a civilized environment, they are even respectful of meaningful policies and activities. It is only when nonsensical matters are introduced that people begin second-guessing authority.

For example, a policy enforcing a business casual dress code in the work environment is generally accepted. It makes sense. On the other hand, a program to reduce the amount of negativity in the work place is generally criticized…a lot. Why? Because people don't feel that they are the cause, so why should they be part of the solution? In their opinion, it is entirely meaningless. Here's where things split.

Some people will argue that it's better to give in and go with the flow—that by being more positive their environment will follow suit. I, on the other hand, tend to argue that, if I am a product of my environment, it is my environment that needs to become more positive. In turn, that positivity will reflect in me. Is the glass half full or half empty?

When you put out a fire, it's more effective to point the hose at the base of the flame. Spraying the tips will do nothing more than waste water. The point being that, although employees comprise the foundation of an organization, they are not always responsible for the problems that cause them to be negative. So why point the hose at them?

Here are some things I know to be true:

With this short list, I can visualize so many reasons why the relationship between those responsible for doing and those responsible for getting it done almost always results in a negative environment. We have to be bigger and better than that to make a system like this work. We have to learn to trust the people we work with and have faith that they are capable of doing their jobs and doing them well. We have to admit when we are wrong and learn from them instead of trying to cover up our mistakes. We need to stop blaming everyone whenever we fail at something. We need to stop thinking only about ourselves, and more about the common goal we share as an organization. We should be proud to be working together, and proud of the result.

When we don't do this, our environment suffers. Distrust fills the air. The little things start bothering us left and right. Negativity flourishes. Yes, it comes from people, but not from a single individual. (Most of them have already detached themselves in an effort to survive.) Focus on the organization and it's processes and you will find the base of your negativity. Only then will productivity and positivity be truly successful.