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The presence of persistent negativity in our work environment can have a variety of impacts on others and those of us who must work and deal with the person whose attitude and behavior is providing the toxicity. It can be tempting to ignore the behavior and focus on our own work. Yet, this choice does not solve the problem and, as leaders, it risks sending a message that we either do not notice or do not care enough to deal with the situation.

The challenge often is what to do about the negativity. Not dealing with it likely will mean that it will get worse. We also risk having our frustration build to the point where we blow up and make the situation worse. Meanwhile, productivity likely will suffer, as will morale. If you are facing this challenge, here is an eight-step process you can use as a basis for planning your approach.

  1. Consider whether you are contributing to the problem. Might it be that you, too, fall into negative speaking patterns, look only at the dark and negative side of issues, or have an attitude that may contribute to or at least make negativity seem like an acceptable aspect of the organizational culture? If so, stop, make changes, and establish a pattern of a more positive attitude before taking the next step.
  2. Think clearly about what behaviors are contributing to the negativity. Separate the person from the behavior. If your approach is to attack the person, you likely will quickly lose the battle and others may come to the other person’s defense, believing that they are being attacked. How you make the approach matters.
  3. Focus your message on how the negativity impacts you, others who are a part of the team or group, and the general work environment. Describe how the behavior makes you feel and the effect you see it having on others.
  4. Be specific about the behaviors that are having an impact. General statements likely will lead to your becoming mired in an argument rather than sharing information.
  5. Acknowledge and accept the underlying causes the person presents relative to causes for the negative behavior. Allow the person to vent, but avoid getting into an exchange about specifics and how others are responsible for this person’s behavior.
  6. Ask the person to change. Be specific about what you are expecting. You may need to create opportunities for the person to practice the behaviors in a low risk environment, depending on the scope and seriousness of the changes to be made.
  7. If you see the negative behaviors beginning to resurface, address them directly and work to resolve them before they become reestablished.
  8. Be sure to notice and provide encouragement as changes in behavior become apparent. Without your noticing the effort and effect of the change, you can anticipate its return.

 Read more at NorthStar for Principals.

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Simply pulling a strategy “off the shelf” or defaulting to the most recently read article or staff development session topic may not generate the results we seek.

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