Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On being positive in the workplace

There’s been a lot of talk about being positive lately and I have my own little opinions about the usefulness of being positive at all cost…

Google is my friend and yesterday I googled (don’t you just love how it’s become an accepted verb?) “being positive in the workplace”, a favourite topic of mine possibly of all time.

I found some handy tips at http://www.rezamaze.com/ by way of the article The top ten ways to be positive in the workplace of life by BZ Riger-Hull, Certified Success Coach. He/she should know what he/she is talking about.

I’ve taken the liberty to quote some of the bits out of the article and adding my own comments because I think we need to think critically about the whole thinking positive cult. If it’s so good it should stand up to scrutiny, shouldn’t it?

Please keep in mind, when reading my comments (the quoted parts are in italic), that I’m grouchy and I really feel completely at ease with pointing an accusing finger at the world and blaming it for just about anything.

Ready? OK. Let’s go.

“There is a growing volume of research that shows’ staying positive is better for your health; you can cope better with stress.” 

There’s also plenty of research showing that putting a lid on your feelings and pretending that you’re feeling positive works to some extent but that it also can be very harmful and can leave you feeling disempowered. We all know that having a great big whinge to a friend is a great relief and does reduce stress. My therapist thinks along these lines but that’s maybe because she makes her living listening to people whinging…


“It’s better for relationships; you keep from judging people and getting the bad habit of gossiping.”

I’m a little confused by this one to be honest because it seems to be directed mostly towards the people who don’t have a lot of power in the workplace. Every worker who has KPOs (key performance objectives) to work to and be judged against knows that there are managers who love using them to criticize people. Basically it ends up like this: It’s better for some in relationships if you don’t tell them that you’re not happy. Gossiping of course is not nice but there’s a fine line between sharing your experiences with a particular person with your colleagues and gossiping.


“It takes much more energy to be negative, always worrying, thinking of the “what if’s”, the “should’s”. Being positive, living in the present will lighten your life and the mood of others around you.”

I don’t know but being negative seems to come easily to me if scrutinizing the system is being negative. Worrying is a drag but it’s easy to slip into the habit of doing that if you have manager who likes to dog you or you work with evil bitches. The author seems to assume that the problem lies with you and your thinking, not the attitude of others toward you. Both can be a problem.


“Attitude is everything. It is the lens that you look through to experience your reality. Take a look at your attitude. Are you negative? Do you color everything with fear or need? How will your life change if you change your attitude?“

Attitude is important, no doubt about that, but let’s not exaggerate. Attitude is not the only lens you look through when you experience your reality. The beliefs you hold about yourself and the world colors your every experience. Are you fearful? Ask yourself what it is that makes you feel fearful and try to find a way to deal with it. If you’re constantly being told that you could lose your job any day because of “right-sizing” then you’re being exactly what they want to you to be; don’t try to change your attitude in that case - look for another job.


“Treat people with kindness and respect. Everyone that you encounter should be valued, treated with courtesy. Acknowledge that they have feelings and their own perspective on life, they may be different than yours but they are also valid.”

Your mama taught you to be polite and you should be. Respect others and most of them will respect you. You don’t have to value each encounter in the workplace, let’s face it some people are pains, but you should strive to at least keep it civil. Valuing it is optional.


“Avoid comparison- whether you are looking down at the people who have not mastered special strengths or up at people who may be more experienced or accomplished. Constantly comparing yourself keeps the focus on the other person instead of what you can do, want to do, and are good at doing. Look inside and improve from there.“

Comparing yourself to others can really help you set new goals. For example, telling yourself that “I’m going to become a better technical writer by striving to become just as good, or better, than the other writers in my team” is not a bad thing at all. We need people to look up to, aren’t they the people we call role models?, and sometimes we need to look down on people too in order to help them perform better.


“Take responsibility for your work, actions, and life… Don’t pass the buck. Don’t make excuses. Take responsibility; acknowledge a mistake fix it and learn from it. Don’t beat yourself up about the mistake, or hang onto past mistakes. Resolve them, own them and move forward. Today.”

The only thing I can add to this one is: Ask for help when you get stuck. There’s no shame in asking for help. Asking for help is a must and is why they have us working in the same building together in the first place.


“That doesn’t work for me. Keep this in mind when someone offers a put down. When they cross your boundaries. Your worth comes from you; your being, your true self. They cannot change your intrinsic value unless you let them. Make it clear that what they are doing doesn’t work for you, keep your boundaries and move forward.“

I have real issues with this one. How many people do you know who have the self-confidence to truly fob off a put down? How many people feel empowered enough to do it? I don’t know many at all to be honest. Most people don’t have “intrinsic value”; hell they don’t even know how to define themselves. This one is bigger than Ben Hur my dears. We’re going to have to circle back to this one in another post at some stage.


“Respect other people’s time and boundaries. If you are having a bad day, feeling stuck, or you are just enjoying procrastinating. Make sure you don’t use that as an excuse to waste other people’s time or cross their boundaries. Time is the most valuable thing we have. If you feel like wasting your time that’s your decision but don’t waste other people’s time.“

Time is the most valuable thing we have in a stressed out world perhaps because that’s all we end up focusing on. The most valuable “thing”, I prefer the word resource personally, is other people. We need to allow each other time to bounce things off each other and not call it wasting time. Not having time is the most popular excuse used by managers when it comes to not dealing with issues the people they manage have.


“Make a “what I have accomplished list”. Too often people make huge to-do lists and then beat themselves up when they have only accomplished a few things on the list. Keep your master list of what you want to accomplish so you don’t forget things that are important to you, but keep a second list you update daily. Each day keep a specific list of all the things you did and how much time you spent on each thing. You’ll know where the day went, can feel good about what you did accomplish and see where you need to focus, to get what’s most important to you, done.”

“Celebrate your victories”. It’s the new favorite in corporations. Maybe we should all get some gold stars to give to ourselves to acknowledge our own achievements. How about you break down some real barriers and acknowledge someone else’s good work? Now that’s useful.


“Take notice of the people around you; co-workers, customers, clients, vendors, and other people you come in contact with each day. Acknowledge what they are contributing and don’t take them for granted. Thank them for buying from you, for their help, their value to the relationship, and for a job well done.”

Sure, if they’re doing a good job. Comes back to being civil again, doesn’t it? If they’re giving you crap then please don’t. You don’t need to stay positive in the face of their mess ups.


“Enjoy the little things that happen in your day. The compliment someone gave you on the insight you shared at the staff meeting. The big smile the customer gave you when they picked up their order. By recognizing your accomplishments even if they seem small or routine, you are acknowledging a job well done.”

There’s nothing intrinsically bad about this one except that you have to keep tally all day. I think this happens automatically though…


“Coming from a positive attitude and perspective you will feel more in control. Consider each job and interaction as your best performance, rather than just running them together as part of your day. You will see the impact you have and the value you offer. People will be attracted to this. They will notice how well you do things and they will truly value you.” 

How about you just make it your goal in life to enjoy things more? How about you take stock of what really makes happy and do more of that in whatever way you can? If you’re a cleaner and you don’t enjoy the floor scrubbing part of your job then please don’t feel like you have to change your attitude to it. You hate it, end of story. You’re glad when it’s done and you can go on to doing the favorite part of your job – scrubbing toilets!


It’s probably not lost on you that I was being a bit negative. I was being negative because I think it’s important that we don’t go about swallowing being positive hook, line and sinker at the cost of our own health and well being. Sometimes we have a right to complain and should do it or nothing will ever change. We'd be standing out in the fields trying to grow corn to eat and not worrying about sitting in a cubicle farm being miserable.

I believe that one of the most common tools used in corporations today is telling people that it’s their attitude that’s bad and that there’s nothing wrong with the actual work environment. This puts the responsibility firmly back on the individual and leaves the corporation free to do pretty much what it wants. This is not a good thing. This is a very bad thing and it causes a lot of stress for people.

You’re allowed be negative. You have my permission. You health demands that you have a negative outlook occasionally.

I'm just saying.

3 comments:

  1. This was a great read. Thank you! I believe this corporate behavior is compounded by our economy. We're often led to believe that we should simply be happy that we have a job and stop complaining about anything at all.

    I find myself reminding myself daily to be thankful that I'm employed, but that does not mean I should blind myself to issues that require change in my current position.

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  2. Fab post! I am "off" suffering "burnout"... sometimes the workplace can be toxic. Sometimes its our response that's a bit skew-whiff.

    But no amount of pretending and smiling can make a bad workplace good. The cult of the positive is being touted as a panacea for all ills. I prefer purposeful constructive criticism...

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