By and large, CEOs and business owners are positive by nature. They have to be. A belief in their own abilities and in the positive traits of those around them is key to succeeding in their professional endeavors.
Inevitably, however, business leaders will encounter negative individuals on the way, people who feel pessimistic about their own futures and (intentionally or not) tend to introduce a toxic element in the workplace. There’s a reason why the saying, “Misery loves company,” has resonated throughout the ages.
But that doesn’t mean you have to be feel trapped by negative people or obliged to deal with them on a regular basis. Here are strategies and action steps you can take to minimize the influence of negativity in your professional life:
1. Know how to recognize signs of negativity. Some signs are too clear-cut to miss, such as chronic complaining or refusing to take responsibility for one’s actions. Other damaging qualities are more subtle but no less insidious. Work on broadening your understanding of how negative people tick and the warning signs of their damaging attitudes.
“The causes of bizarre, destructive or irrational behavior can be many,” observes business owner Liam Massaubi. “Learn to identify toxic people and avoid at all costs even if it is a short-term loss for business.”
2. Alter your responses to negative people. There’s not much you can do about what’s shaped a negative person’s outlook. What you can control is your own response when encountering such people, including:
Set boundaries. Only in rare circumstances should you feel obligated to remain in conversation with a toxic individual. Most of the time, keep your interactions short and then be on your way.
Avoid arguments. Just as the 2016 election cycle demonstrated, some topics are simply too poisonous to discuss with others. “A negative person likely has very staunch views and isn’t going to change that just because of what you said,” notes life coach Celestine Chua. If you choose to engage in such a conversation, “give constructive comments, and if the person rebuts with no signs of backing down, don’t engage further.”
Take responsibility for your attitude. Ultimately, it’s how you react to a negative person that informs the outcome of the encounter. Some people have the uncanny ability to detect the good in everyone they meet. This is a useful trait for business leaders to develop in themselves.
3. Practice empathy. In some cases, you can mitigate the effects of a negative person by attempting to understand why they behave as they do. If a person who’s normally upbeat by nature becomes ill-tempered and difficult to deal with, look for possible underlying causes, i.e., problems in their job or personal life. If you can get a sense of what’s bothering them, you might be able to lighten the mood or even offer some support or assistance. This can dramatically change a bad situation to a positive one.
4. Get rid of chronically negative employees. Your company’s workplace culture is a key element in attracting and retaining top talent. Recognizing that even one chronically negative employee can poison the well, act quickly to change that individual’s behavior—or be willing to let him go. “In the hunt for talent, businesses can’t afford to lose valued workers because the work environment is dysfunctional, fear-based or insufficiently appreciative of their contributions.”
Most importantly, practice being consistently positive in your own outlook. There’s no law that states CEOs must be brusque, ill-mannered or otherwise act in a negative manner. A friendly, optimistic attitude is infectious (in the best possible sense) and also makes for a longer, healthier and more satisfying life.
Having a network of forward-looking colleagues also helps influence business leaders in a positive way. You’ll find just such an upbeat network when you join a TAB Board.