We all know people who are bubbly, bright and optimistic all the time. And conversely, we all know that person who is grumpy, moody and pessimistic.

Hundreds of hours and millions of pounds have been spent trying to find out what motivates people or makes them naturally “glass-half-full” or “glass-half-empty”. Yet, without the definitive answers, as bosses and colleagues we’re often charged with turning negativity into positivity and improving workplace engagement.

Negativity in yourself

If it’s negativity in yourself that needs addressing, then there are techniques you can use to gee yourself up and motivate yourself into having a more optimistic outlook.

One technique is to push those negative thoughts away. You need to be aware of the internal chatter and be able to spot the negative thoughts intruding and when you do, you can recognise them and reject them. Tell yourself not to be so negative and to stop complaining. Stemming the tide of these thoughts is important because the more you think a negative thought, the more your brain becomes accustomed to it, making it an easier thing to do again in the future.

Find out what makes employees happy at work and how you can do it too!


Instead, you can start to look for the positive in everything. One way to do this is to cultivate a thankful persona. Try to become grateful for everything – overtly to people’s faces if they give you something or do something well for you – but inwardly too. Being grateful reduces stress hormones and according to professor of psychology at UC Davis, Robert A. Emmons, “The practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life … It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep.” So, any time you feel yourself beginning to have negative thoughts, shift the focus onto something you are grateful for and you will then become more positive.

Another thing to avoid is over-generalising. This can cause you to only see the big picture and not the details. It can cause you to truly believe what it is that you’ve exaggerated. For example, if you come out of a new client meeting having not won the big, new deal, you may think, “I never win any new clients.” But you’re in business and you have won deals in the past, so it would be more accurate to reframe this to something like, “There are times like this when I don’t win a deal, but I have won clients in the past so I can win the next one.”

Another technique when a negative thought creeps in is to think it through logically and rationally. If you can analyse a situation without the emotion, then you can approach it more evenly. A balanced look can often make a negative viewpoint more positive in outcome. 

It’s not only in ourselves that we encounter negativity. People’s moods are infectious. Think about when you last spent some time with a negative person, or someone who was moaning. I bet you were left feeling drained and pessimistic yourself. Often, these people are our own employees or colleagues, so we also need to learn to deal with negativity in others. 


Negativity in others

It’s difficult when you have staff that are negative. Perhaps they’re your subordinates, or you’re charged with the HR responsibility for addressing employee happiness.

Turning negativity around in others is harder, as we’re not in that other person’s brain. We can’t always be there, cheerleader-like, encouraging the naysayer in them to be more positive. 

As a solution to their negativity, you should be managing employee performance and ensure that you teach them all the techniques we’ve already touched on. First, you need to address their negativity and make them understand why it is so detrimental.

It may be that they are effecting the team identity in the office. Negativity is catching, so we tend to join in and moan ourselves when someone is being cynical or pessimistic. As a result, your workforce will likely be agreeing with the complaints and negative comments. We’re also a very polite society, so it’s often difficult for people to challenge such behaviour, especially in the workplace.

You need to demonstrate how damaging and harmful negative talk can be to others as well as the person themself. The behaviour is probably having a harmful effect on overall morale within the company and levels of employee engagement. The other staff are not only listening to it, but may be feeling even more negative if they feel powerless to prevent or discourage their colleague.

Once you’ve explored the reasons for their negativity, and put in place a strategy to address them, the employee must additionally be clearly made aware that negative actions or behaviour cannot be tolerated. You should explain how it is impacting others and the company as a whole. It’s not always an easy conversation to have, but you can always find good ways to deliver bad news.

So whether it’s you or others that are being negative, there are ways to turn it around so that we can all become motivated, positive and “glass-half-full” people.

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About The Author

Mel is the Digital Marketing Manager at breatheHR. She regularly contributes insights into current SME and HR trends as well as reporting on breatheHR news and updates.