Curb Your (Negative) Enthusiasm
By: Maggie Bellville, Partner, CarterBaldwin
Are you a copycat? Well according to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, you probably are. People copy people at work, at home and at play. For example, folks are more likely to be overweight if they have a friend or relative who is obese, even if that friend or relative lives far away. Similar results were found for people who started or stopped smoking, and the same is true for employee behavior. We’ve all seen it–one employee starts dressing down for work or taking extended lunches, and pretty soon everyone in the office is wearing flip-flops and taking two hours for lunch.
Whether it’s something as straightforward as the company dress code or more complicated than that, never underestimate the impact one employee can have on an entire organization, especially when that employee exhibits negative behavior. So how can we manage our behavior as well as the behavior of those around us? Here is a look at three of the most common types of negative behavior in the workplace and how to handle them.
Some people view every interaction, personal or professional, as a transaction. These individuals, let’s call them Upgraders, exchange underachievers for people who are more likely to benefit them as they move up the corporate ladder. While most of us might feel twinges of conscience to choose our friends wisely at work, Upgraders do it with cold, calculating precision.
Upgraders cause chaos within organizations because their abrasive style and manipulative behavior results in hurt feelings and heightened suspicion among co-workers. They often become pariahs because they are viewed as being untrustworthy and disloyal.
So what can you do to keep from being the casualty of an Upgrader, or worse yet, becoming one? Simple. Instead of cutting negative people completely out of your life, dilute the effect of the bad influences by adding more rising stars to your circle. It is possible to have a rich variety of acquaintances you can learn from and may even see you as a source.
Another common type of negative behavior in the workplace is what I call ‘Woe-Is-Me’ Syndrome (WIMS). Common symptoms of WIMS include constant complaining, poor performance, and a defeatist attitude. It may not sound very important, but WIMS can be highly contagious and may reach epidemic levels before a manager even knows anything is wrong.
My advice? Don’t listen to people with WIMS. When they start coming up with excuses, counter with solutions. Our economy and all industries are going through enormous changes, both technologically and competitively, so it is imperative that we surround ourselves with bold, innovative, and positive thinkers instead of people who continually make mountains out of molehills, and think the sky is falling every time someone asks them to do something.
THE OLD GUARD
Last but not least are those who think the status quo is good enough and that change is the root of all evil. I call them the Old Guard, and if it were up to them we’d still be using typewriters and wondering what the word ‘Google’ meant. The problem with the Old Guard is that they attempt to stifle innovative thinking in order to consolidate organizational power.
The best way to combat the Old Guard is to introduce a new element into your life. Whether it’s a mentor, a new employee or colleague with a fresh perspective on things, or anything else that helps you break the monotony of the status quo, the most important thing is to continually search for ways to better yourself and your organization. By doing so you will be recognized as an asset, and it won’t be long before the Old Guard goes the way of the Betamax.
When dealing with negative behavior in the workplace the important thing to remember is this: your happiness is your responsibility. Managing relationships is essential to building a vibrant, positive, fast-moving organization, and is vital if our industry is to succeed in today’s ultra-competitive environment.
Maggie Bellville is a partner in the Atlanta-based executive search firm Carter Baldwin. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org