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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

5 Ways You Don’t Realize You’re Being Negative

My client Justin was looking at new career avenues after the dust of his once-exciting post-grad life had settled. The career path he’d initially chosen had lost its luster, and it was time to move on. We were brainstorming ideas—and I quickly realized that he was putting the kibosh on each idea before I could even get a complete thought out.

“I can’t do that because…”

“That doesn’t make sense because…”

“I don’t have the skills for that, so that will never work…”

After 30 minutes, I was exhausted. His negative feedback and reluctance to engage openly with new ideas was wearing—and that doesn’t even touch on the effect it was having on Justin. As we went on, he started feeling more and more dejected about the possibly of discovering new career options.

Negativity like Justin’s can be a curse. Not only does it hamper your ability to get results, but studies also show negative thoughts transmit stress-producing hormones. One psychologist described it as “second hand smoke!”

But while sometimes your negative thoughts are as blatant and obvious as Justin’s, other times negativity may creep in in such subtle ways, you may not even see the havoc they create. Here are five of the most common ways you may not realize you’re being negative. See which of these you might be able to work on this week to reduce the undesirable vibes—and your stress level—at work.

1. Negative Inferences

“Sure, I get great performance reviews, but I don’t make anywhere near the money I should.”

The first half of this sentence is a perfectly good positive statement—but the end is wrapped up in a negative wet blanket. That downer ending completely negates any positive energy and depletes all enthusiasm for your thought or idea.

Instead, when you’re tempted to turn down a negative road, check yourself and stay in the positive accomplishment. Focus on the desired outcome, rather than the gap—for example, “I get great performance reviews. I want to get better at quantifying my accomplishments so I can more effectively negotiate my salary in the future.”

2. Inability to Accept a Compliment

“Oh, I’m glad the conference went well, but really I didn’t do that much. Anybody could have done it. I just got really lucky.”

Negating your abilities or not taking credit for your work doesn’t serve your confidence or competence. And it makes it hard for others to believe in you, to boot.

So when you hear yourself starting to refute a compliment with an excuse, stop! Change up your thinking so you can humbly and graciously accept the kind words. Remember, “thank you” is a complete sentence!

3. “Yeah, But…”

Co-worker: “We should reduce the price to generate more sales.”

You: “Yeah, but the client will never go for it.”

When you start any statement with “yeah, but…” you diminish your ability to communicate effectively because “but” is a blocker. It dismisses anything positive that came before it and, overall, makes it hard to collaborate with others.

I heard a lot of “yeah, buts” from Justin. Too many of those, and listeners lose interest in hearing what you have to say. Instead, validate ideas that could work or offer an alternative solution—in a positive way.

4. Reacting Instead of Responding

“I can’t believe you said that during the meeting. We’ll be paying for that for weeks!”

Stephen Covey talked about this in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Reacting is knee-jerk, quick, and often happens without much thought. It’s emotionally charged. Reaction without thoughtfulness can lead to gross negativity.

Responding, on the other hand, requires you to take a pause, form a thoughtful reply, and focus on inquiry over accusation. It allows you to carefully examine an issue and its resolution, rather than explode with the negative force of calling it out. For example:

“Josh, the comment you made in that meeting might have been perceived differently than you intended it. Help me understand your thought process so we can clear up any confusion.”

Can you hear the difference, and see how the latter can mitigate the negative vibes?

5. Feeling Better at Someone Else’s Expense

“I heard Marta got a real talking to about the Acme project. That’ll probably take her ego down a few pegs!”

When you focus your conversations on making someone else feel diminished, you’ve taken negative thinking to a new low. These kinds of gossip-ridden statements are a sign of your own insecurity and your desire to feel better about yourself. How much more negative can you get?

To combat this, consider what motivates you to try to feel better at another’s expense. Are you insecure about your own performance and another’s misfortune makes you feel better? Do you envy the other’s abilities and feel better when he or she is reprimanded? Do you have a bad habit around gossip that needs to change? There’s probably some work to be done on your end.

You may not run around with a giant billboard that says “I’m negative!” over your head. But these small, tactical messages, however, can insinuate a lot of negativity into your day. Watch out for them, turn them around, and release yourself from the stress of negative thinking.

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