There are two types of people: those who wake up each morning eager to start the day and those who absolutely dread what the day has in store. Which kind of person are you? Do you often find it difficult to find the positivity in your work day, or maintain a sunny outlook once you get around your co-workers?
For years, I struggled with this. While I enjoyed my career in the corporate world as an human resource manager and later as a content manager/courseware developer for a software company, I quickly discovered that my enthusiasm would diminish as soon as I got around my grumbling co-workers.
There was this routine that nearly everyone had to varying degrees:
(1) Come to work and be greeted by the smiling secretary (if she was in a good mood).
(2) Arrive at our desks, unpack our stuff, and say good morning to everyone with a forced smile.
(3) Make a bee-line for the coffee bar and encounter a bunch of bleary-eyed co-workers.
(4) Listen to a bunch of whining for the next few hours at project meetings.
(5) Go to lunch and try to recover, maintain some semblance of positivity.
(6) Retreat to our work desks. Then watch the clock until it was time to leave for the day. Celebrate when it was time to go.
(7) Head out for a drink after work with co-workers, or home to binge on comfort food.
My grandmother once told me that it’s easier to smile than frown. She encouraged me to see the silver lining in every situation, so naturally I tend to be a positive person. And this, I have found, can lift others up. But, it can also irritate some people because they look at me like – what is she so happy about?
This may be a matter of opinion, but if you are a positive person, do what comes natural to you and smile at other people, encourage other people, and just be yourself. If you love what you do for a career, it shows. Don’t let anyone try to stomp on your happiness. Find other happy people to associate with. Avoid the chronic complainers. Change the subject and the mood in the room when someone starts grumbling about their day. You don’t have to allow negativity to invade an otherwise great day.
Some of us have a lot to be happy about. For one, I am happy to be alive. I am happy that I have the ability to get up each day and do the work I enjoy, interact with the people and companies that I do, and work on exciting projects. Not everyone has this capability, and I get that. It takes time, persistence, and a lot of hard work to get to this point.
How do you face each day? One thing I have learned over the years and through my coach training is that you must ‘clear things’ before you can be productive. The noise that happens in the human mind builds up and bogs things down. I call this “mind clutter” because it’s akin to having a messy office that begins to cave in around you to the point where all you can think about is escaping. Negativity can easily take up space in all this clutter.
If you happen to be particularly sensitive to the moods of others (empathic) this happens a lot more than you may realize. You are like a sponge, soaking up every negative word, gesture, and idea. Over time, the clutter builds up and comes out in physical and emotional turmoil. You can find yourself neglecting your needs, losing your confidence, avoiding the things and people you formerly enjoyed, and just getting stagnant.
Clearing your mind clutter begins by acknowledging that it exists and then using a method to reduce or remove it. What works for me is getting it out of my head and onto paper. Each day, I take a few moments over my morning coffee and write things out. It takes less than 10 minutes. I use Evernote to write out important To-Dos, project deadlines, ideas for content, research sources for things I need, and more.
Once I have a clear mind, I find it easier to then focus on my priorities for that day. There’s less time for filling up my head with all the negative stuff that people throw at me. I just let it bounce off of me. If someone happens to complain to me, which happens often, I just listen and give them some caring words of support rather than engage in co-miserating. People have to own their own emotions and reactions to things. There is a certain freedom in realizing this.
One of the most difficult situations to deal with is when a supervisor gets into a negative mood. He or she can bring the rest of the team down. I’ve worked for some awesome managers who have from time to time let the pressure of their positions get to them. I’ve seen otherwise effective leaders tear their teams apart. When faced with someone in authority who is negative or demeaning (because some people get their kicks from this kind of behavior), the best course of action is to be an active listener, be supportive, and ask your supervisor what you can do to make his or her life easier today.
Negativity can also come from not meeting physical needs. How many times have you skipped lunch to take care of an important project? Or worked too many late nights to beat a deadline? When we are under stress and not taking care of our physical well-being, it’s easier to become grouchy. Use your calendar to remind you to eat something healthy for lunch, take breaks from your desk, and drink plenty of water each day. When you are home, try to put work out of your mind as much as possible. Get rested and use weekends to unwind, not take work home.
Being positive in the workplace takes effort. So many people use this environment as a sounding board for their unhappiness. Honestly, these are folks who probably should work with a career coach to discover a better job where they can be more fulfilled. In the meantime, you have to protect YOU from negative people and situations. Recognize it and then take steps to avoid letting it into your mind.
If you are struggling with negativity at work, feel free to connect with me for a complimentary 15-minute coaching session. In the meantime, here are some additional resources you may find useful:
A favorite article of mine by Larry Kim, founder of Wordstream and CEO of Mobile Monkey, “5 Survival Tips for Handling Toxic Co-Workers”
A fun video by International Hall of Fame business speaker Michael Kerr, president of Humor at Work: