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Get Positive or Get Out: The Power of Workplace Positivity

I have a saying I like to use in the workplace from time to time. Or, rather, it’d be more accurate to say I have a saying that I like to paraphrase:

“Get positive, or get the [redacted] out.”

I used to have this written on the board in my office but it turned a few too many heads.

In all seriousness, however, I’m a firm believer in the power of positivity in the workplace. Our attitudes can affect so much, from productivity and collaboration to career advancement and team dynamics, that it cannot be overlooked.

Now, I’m also nothing if not a realist. I’m not saying that you should plaster on a fake smile every single day. Sometimes work is frustrating, or difficult, or your heart simply isn’t in it, and you shouldn’t ignore those feelings in favor of blind optimism.

However, what you can do, when presented with the right environment, is make the choice to approach work with a positive spirit and make a concerted effort to shed negativity and nay-saying.

Here are a few areas where I believe having a positive attitude will benefit you at work:

Meetings and Collaboration

Meetings are a fact of life in any workplace. You have to be able to collaborate with others at one point or another in order to get things done. However, there are a lot of common negativity traps around meetings that are easy to fall into:

  • The Nay-Sayer – This meeting participant is always quick to tell others why their ideas won’t work, without offering any viable solutions or alternatives.
  • The Monopolizer – Regardless of how many voices are in the room, this person wants to be the only one that gets heard.
  • The Interrupter – This person’s ideas are more important than yours, and they’ll gladly cut you off to make that clear.

None of these approaches is necessarily catastrophically bad, but none is particularly productive either. Instead, try to approach meetings from a place of teamwork and encouragement rather than combativeness. When everyone’s ideas have a place at the table, the final product will be better for it.

Management (and being managed)

Everyone is going to have their own preferences about how they want to be managed and mentored. However, I try to always begin by teaching and encouraging rather than criticizing, even if the conversation I need to have is of a negative nature. Some situations may dictate a heavier hand, but there are few things in the workplace that can’t effectively be resolved with an open, honest and positive conversation about what needs to be improved and why.

On the flipside as a managee, understanding how to take criticism with a positive attitude, viewing things as an opportunity to improve rather than a slap on the wrist, is key to maintaining morale and productivity even in the face of a potentially less-than-ideal performance on your part. Take the feedback, internalize it and then face tomorrow with the knowledge that you can and will do better.

Team Projects

Similarly to meetings, working on a team is a fact of worklife for many of us, and just like any relationship, team dynamics need to be positively nurtured if they’re going to be long-lasting. And nowhere are the effects of those relationships felt more strongly than in a pressing team project, where different pieces and parts have to be masterfully choreographed if deadlines are going to be met.

In the heat of a pressing delivery date, it’s easy for team dynamics to become frayed; one party might feel they have an undue share of the burden, or fingers might start getting pointed if a delay seems inevitable. It’s important to remember though that it’s not about 100% equality in workload or everything always going according to plan, it’s about working together as a unit to achieve a common goal. Yes, you might have to shoulder more of the workload on a particular project, but do it with the attitude that your teammate is likely be in the same boat on the next one.

“Team spirit” often feels like a concept that belongs more in a pep rally than the office, but the idea is still valuable if it teaches us to work together graciously.

I’m by no means always positive while I’m at work, nor do I expect you to be. However I do still always make the effort to approach things in a positive way, regardless of how tired or frustrated I am. It’s not always easy, but bettering oneself rarely is. Try putting a positive spin on your worklife, and I promise you’ll find yourself happier, more productive and more collaborative.

For more insights from Sean, check out his latest article for Switch & Shift: “The Double-Edged Sword of Teamwork.”

About Sean O'Brien

Sean O’Brien is PGi’s Chief Administrative Officer. He oversees the company’s Legal, HR and Program Management organizations and manages Corporate Development, M&A and Acquisition Integration. In addition, Mr. O’Brien leads Corporate Strategy, Executive Communications and Global Facilities Management.

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