Years ago, there was a commercial for Life cereal in which two little boys push a bowl of cereal over to their little brother to see if it tastes good. “Let’s get Mikey. He hates everything,” they say. The little brother is adorable and it’s a cute little ad spot.
But when an adult is known for “hating everything,” it’s not so cute, especially in the workplace. Some people confuse negativity with superior intelligence, as in “I am cognitively able to find the hole in every plan.”
If you think having a problem with everything presents you in a smarter, more discriminating light, you would be wrong. Unless, of course, with every problem you find, you have a solution. But it usually doesn’t work that way.
Negative people get in a groove (or a rut, if you will) and automatically “go negative” in any situation. The human brain can become addicted to negativity and when they criticize something it gives them a “fix.”
I would never advocate becoming a pinwheels-for-eyes Mirth Machine (or this guy), but it’s much better for your well-being (and your career) if you strike a happy medium. And if you are a pessimist at heart, that’s fine. I’m not here to change your world outlook. But I can offer you a few tips for curbing your negative behavior in the workplace:
Hold your tongue first. Rather than just blurting out what you feel (or rolling your eyes, or sighing as if you have the weight of all the world’s stupid people on your shoulder), take a moment to be aware of what you’re actually feeling.
Try to get out of the habit. The fact is, you see more of what you notice. Have you ever learned a new term and then it seems like people are using it everywhere you turn? They’re not-it’s just that it’s what you are noticing more. If you focus on people’s faults, you will find even more of them.
Become self-aware. It’s hard to be objective about yourself. Ask your spouse or a close friend for candid feedback.
Assess your needs. What are you trying to accomplish by complaining? Are you legitimately trying to make a process better or are you just trying to make a process look bad?
Decide to change. Complaining is a habit. If you’re aware of what you’re doing, it will be easier to stop the negativity before it makes itself known in a meeting or in a group project.
If you consciously work at it, you can become known as the person people can come to to get honest feedback, both good and bad. And that’s a great quality.