Remaining Positive in a Sea of Negativity: A #SHRM17 Interview with Steve Gilliland

I like to think that I’m basically a good person; but then I think about what I’d do in a zombie apocalypse, and I realize I’m actually horrible and selfish. How do I know this? The first thing I’d do if I was scratched by a zombie is scratch my friends and a select few family members. I’m not going through that alone!

As it turns out, this selfish attitude of mine is pretty common—only people use it to spread negativity instead of zombie pathogens. When people are upset, angry and bitter, they don’t want to be alone; so they let everyone know about it. Then other people absorb it, and the negativity multiplies just like an epidemic. I know I’ve seen it lately. I know I’ve done it lately, for that matter; but I’m trying to work on it. Lucky for me, I got some help from Steve Gilliland, award-winning speaker, professional development expert and author of Hide Your Goat: Strategies to Stay Positive When Negativity Surrounds You. Gilliland will be presenting at SHRM on this very topic, and he was kind enough to give me a bit of a preview.

Negativity Is Seductive

Politics, financial stresses, fake news, family demands and career life — it’s not hard to find negativity in the world, and yet we all claim to hate it. So why is it everywhere and why do we pay attention to it?

“That’s a very tough question to answer,” Gilliland says, “because ... ask yourself this: Why do people with diabetes eat sugar? Why do people with heart disease eat bad foods, drink and smoke?” All of us have desires that aren’t harmonious with our goals in life, he says, but we can change how we react to them. For some people being negative is just a habit or a reflex. Others truly may delight in getting your goat, he says. The key is in not letting the negative reaction spread to you.

“It starts with you. Discover what gets your goat. What is it that upsets you and pushes your buttons? Acknowledge it and then avoid it or don’t participate. For example, if everyone at work is gossiping about someone, you say something good about that person or simply don’t join in,” Gilliland says. It’s easy to join the negativity, but ultimately it’s not good for anyone, he says.

Negativity Affects Productivity

If the culture at your office is very positive, it can boost productivity. If it’s negative, it can hurt productivity, Gilliland says. It all starts with leadership. “The whole morale of the company is defined by the leadership. If they aren’t held accountable for their negative actions or attitude, it filters down. Then people begin to accept a culture of negative behavior and it’s a vicious cycle,” he says.

You want to “hide your goat” and not let negative people push your buttons, true, but you also need to “feed your goat” and surround yourself with positivity as much as possible, he says. You may not be able to eliminate the negativity in your work environment, but you can seek out positivity in other areas of your life so that the negativity won’t be so seductive and you won’t feel the need to fit into that culture so much, he says. You can do this by eliminating negative social media that you participate in, becoming involved in your community or church, or even just meditating and practicing mindfulness. Control what you give attention to, he says.

You Can Become Immune to Negative Influence

One good way to stop this cycle is to reduce others’ ability to influence you. “We reciprocate an emotion that’s been given to us sometimes,” Gilliland says. “Hurting people hurt people, and it’s unintentional most of the time. But you don’t have to reciprocate that or take it personally.”

If someone comes to work and they’re angry, the way you respond will be the tipping point to your day. You could develop a bad attitude also. You could counter with a dose of positivity, but this may serve to alienate your angry co-worker even more, he says. Or you can try to ignore it for a little bit. “No reaction can be better than a positive reaction in many cases,” Gilliland says. It’s not your job to cheer someone else up; that can be exhausting with chronic Debbie Downers, and they may feel like you aren’t taking them seriously if you react with a sunny disposition no matter what they feel.

Instead, remember that you’re trying to reduce negativity; before you say or do anything, ask yourself whether it will improve the situation, he says. Think first. Don’t click, don’t post, don’t tweet and don’t get upset face-to-face. Just ignore the upset co-worker for a moment. If Frank is saying he hates his job and his day, take the high road, Gilliland urges. “Say ‘I’m sorry to hear that. I hope your day gets better,’ and then move on without taking on Frank’s feelings,” he says.



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