Defuse Negativity at Work

This article shares how being vocal with your positive thoughts even when others have differing opinions can turn the tide in a workplace.

In meetings, have you ever noticed how one negative comment can derail an entire conversation and squelch the morale of everyone in the room? I’ve sat through countless meetings where, instead of focusing on the task at hand, a single person dominated the discussion and turned it into a bitching, moaning and whining session. By the end of the meeting, all you have is a group of irritable employees and no action plan. It’s a horrible (and horribly common) situation.


But pay attention: There’s a silver lining ⎯ at least if you’re interested in boosting your value and strengthening your leadership skills. You just need to speak up.

Next time you find yourself in one of these meetings, try reversing that negativity by applying some positive social pressure. Social pressure is a powerful thing. In one study, researchers found out just how much the perception of peer behavior can influence individual choices and actions. Have you seen those signs in hotels, asking you to “Please reuse your towels”? In one hotel, researchers changed the sign to say, “Most people in this hotel reuse their towels at least once during their stay.”

What happened? Immediately, towel reuse rates went up 25%, and laundry bills went down. (See this article for more information.) Same intent, different words, dramatically different outcome. And all because it is in our nature to follow social cues. If we think everyone else in the neighborhood is recycling, then we recycle. If we think our coworkers are dissatisfied, we tend to be more dissatisfied. On the other hand, if we think our coworkers are eager and enthusiastic, so are we.

Use this phenomenon to your advantage. Don’t sit back in meetings and let the negative forces take hold. Don’t be the silent majority. Find like-minded visionaries who are willing to kick in, solve problems and get the work done. Then go after easy converts among your coworkers who are on the fence ⎯ the ones that stay silent in meetings, hoping to avoid conflict and just escape the meeting unscathed. Personally invite these coworkers to join your group.

(Don’t worry about the resistant types. These are the people who don’t do their share of work. They don’t care about the work. They’d rather complain. Forget about them. There will always be a few in every organization, but their numbers are small and they can’t bring you down without your permission.)

Counter the negativity with your own constructive viewpoint, and work to keep things moving. Most of all, speak up. Your leaders and coworkers need to hear your voice, even if you just open your mouth to say, “I agree.” By doing so, you help tip the balance toward productivity and action, rather than letting critical voices monopolize the discussion. It helps other people in the room feel more comfortable tackling new challenges, adapting to change, setting ambitious goals or whatever it is the meeting is about.


No need to attack the resistant elements in the room. Just speak your mind. Change the energy in the room. And bring others along with you.

Want to know more about how to defuse drama at work? Check out Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace.