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How to Neutralize Negativity in the Workplace

To turn a negative attitude into a positive one, you need to:

Identify the Problem

Usually, you get so wrapped up in a negative attitude that it's tough to see you have a problem. The best thing to do is to become aware of yourself, and "observe" yourself for a day. If you find that you change when you step through the doors of your workplace because everyone else does too, then maybe you have a problem.

Another clue is the people you work with. Listen to them and see if they're really negative. If they are, it might have rubbed off on you.

Analyze the Situation

What you need to do is figure out what is under your control and what isn't. In the workplace, it may seem like there isn't much that is under your control, but that's not always true. The one thing that is always under your control is your attitude.

The Arnot Ogden Medical Center notes that you should "write down all your worries, even small ones, and put them in one of two categories: those you can influence and those you can't. Then focus just on those problems you can influence."

You can break this down a little more for a workplace: list your worries as what you can influence, what your boss might be able to influence, and what you cannot influence. If you have some valid concerns that could make your workplace a better environment for everyone, talk to your boss and ask if anything can be done to make these changes. He might say it isn't possible, but he might just never have realized that the change you suggested could make things easier for everyone.

Most importantly, once you have identified things that cannot be changed, don't sit and worry about them. They are beyond your control, and worrying about them will only upset you and make you frustrated by what you can't do. Remember to focus on the positive of what you can do.

Write Down Positive Goals

This sounds like a very simple -- too simple -- task, but it really helps. If you decide on little goals, small changes to aim for (like putting your watch in your desk or pocket so that you won't look at it every five minutes and wish you were somewhere else), then you give yourself a realistic point to aim for. And if your goal is realistic, you're more likely to reach it and keep up with the process of positive change.

In the HeartMath Newsletter, produced by the Institute of HeartMath (a nonprofit organization that tries to help people understand how stress affects the body and, through it, the quality of daily life), it's noted that "many overcares come from draining attachments and unmet expectations. Learning to adapt to a situation and letting go of the outcome will give you the power to change it."

That is, be realistic about what you expect to happen. If your goals are unrealistic, you will get frustrated and won't be able to stop worrying about it. This will make you negative instead of positive.

Practice Techniques

There are a number of techniques you can use to increase your positive attitude. One such is self talk. This means constantly telling yourself positive things, like "I can do this" or "My suggestions are valuable and valued." This doesn't mean telling yourself things that are not true. That would be creating an unrealistic expectation that you cannot meet.

The Arnot Ogden Medical Center advises that you "tell yourself positive things every day for a month. Practice positive self talk for at least one month before judging how it has affected your attitude."

If you tell yourself what you can do instead of what you can't, you will be more likely to be able to achieve your goals.

Another thing you can do to help yourself become more positive is to reduce your stress level. To do this, you can start by finding someone to talk out your problems with. If you catch problems when they start to bother you and talk about them, you can vent your frustration before it builds up into stress.

Other ways to manage stress can be very simple. As the Arnot Ogden Medical Center advises, "when your body is healthy, your feelings are more positive." Dorothy Cotton, a psychologist, in her article Job Stress: It Ain't What it Used to Be, notes that as "boring and preachy as it sounds, those of us who are fit, eat properly, exercise regularly, learn a relaxation technique and moderate our use of evil drugs and alcohol will stay healthier."

Relaxation techniques can include a class on meditation, Tai Chi, or learning to do biofeedback. Most of these things are available through continuing education at local community colleges or community recreation centres.

Robert W. Bly, president of the Center for Technical Communication in Dumont, New Jersey, notes that you can simply find an outside interest to take your mind off work. "It doesn't have to be work-related. The simple act of doing something new will boost your spirits and give you a new outlook on life -- a positive attitude that will spill over into your job."

A final technique that you can use is affirmation. That is, tell yourself what you are doing that's right, and visualize it happening. For example, tell yourself: "I'm happy with my job" or "I make an effort to smile at everyone I see." Then visualize it happening, and eventually it will come easily. If you need to, find someone who is already doing these things, and use them as a role model.

Check Your Progress

Once you start on the road to a positive attitude, you need to make sure you keep on track. Every once in a while, stop and listen to yourself and those around you to make sure you're still being positive. If you are not, ask yourself what has changed, and what you can do about it. By being aware of changes taking place around you, you can deal with your situation before it becomes so frustrating that you get stressed out and down in the dumps about it.

It's like a pair of glasses: they're always on your face, but you need to clean them once in a while to make sure you are seeing things clearly through them. The negative film needs to be wiped away so that your positive attitude can see things as they should be.