Yesterday I was eating dinner with a dear friend as she sadly described the horrible day she just had. We’ll call my friend Susan for her privacy.

Susan is a speech language pathologist for several elementary schools helping disabled children improve their speaking.  This particular day she was traveling with a teacher to do a home visit with one of the girls they taught.  The purpose was to hear how the child was doing at home and answer any questions the parents have about the speech program their daughter is in.

Susan arrived with the teacher and sat down to begin the visit with the family, something she has done with other families hundreds of times.  The mother was very thoughtful and curious about how her daughter behaved and interacted in the classroom, so she asked them, “What does my daughter like to do in your program?

Before Susan could respond, the teacher interrupted saying, “I can tell you what your daughter doesn’t like.  She doesn’t like Susan’s teaching.  She doesn’t like the games they play or the stories she tells.  She thinks they are boring and can’t pay attention to the way Susan teaches her.”  Susan was speechless, she tried to change the subject back to the family and their daughter’s speaking abilities instead.

The mother must have noticed the rude and unprofessional response the teacher gave adding, “Well, I sure have noticed a difference.  My daughter speaks much more clearly, her vocabulary is growing, and she seems happy when I ask her what she is learning in the class.

As Susan and the teacher left to return to the school, the teacher told Susan to write down three compliments about herself.  Susan was a bit thrown off by her behavior but went along with it.  She wrote, “I am a good speech pathologist,” after all she had been recognized many times by the district for her work.  Susan read it out loud cheerfully, to which the teacher quipped, “That’s not true.

Needless to say, the teacher’s negative behavior was destructive to the work they were doing.  What benefit did it serve Susan or the family they were visiting? Would it surprise you if I were to tell you the teacher was previously given notice that her own job was in jeopardy if she didn’t improve?

The Numbers on Negativity in the Workplace

The sad thing is Susan isn’t alone.

  • Gallup surveys show that organizations typically have one in six employees who are actively sabotaging the functioning of others in their workplace.
  • A study conducted by Christine Pearson found that 25 percent of employees witness workplace incivility every day, and 50 percent said they were the direct target of an uncivil act at least once a week.
  • In a study conducted in 2000, Keashly and Jagatic found that 27 percent of workers reported being mistreated at work.
  • Nurses are one of the most prominent victims of negativity in the work place.  A 1997 study in the Journal of Professional Nursing reported that 90 percent of RNs had been victims of verbal abuse by a physician in the past year.  Guess what the Journal of Nursing Administration calculated the turnover cost of a SINGLE nurse to be? $82,000 to $87,000.  A 2005 study by the Bernard Hodes Group found hospital turnover rates averaging 14 percent, in a 300-bed hospital with 375 full-time RNs costs approximately $4.5 million per year. Costly indeed.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates companies lose $3 billion a year to the effects of negative attitudes and behaviors at work.
So What Causes Negativity in The Workplace?

Horizon Health Organization Risk Management Center identified several internal and external causes.


  • Personality
  • Communication style
  • Personal stressors
  • Perception of events


  • Large workload
  • High stress
  • Poor job fit
  • Lack of communication
How Does Negativity Express Itself?

When these internal and external influences don’t cooperate with how an individual prefers their life to run, negativity creeps in.  Sometimes it can be as subtle as muttering under your breath, or as obvious as outright insulting.

Some of the more common expressions are;

  • Complaining
  • Not listening well
  • Finding only the negative aspects of a situation
  • Not offering solutions to problems
  • Unable to see how their behavior affects others
  • Attempting to create discontent in the workplace
  • Blaming others
  • Disrespecting others
  • Resisting organizational change
  • Disclosing too many personal problems
  • Co-workers go out of their way to avoid interaction with employee
  • Alienating themselves from co-workers
So How Do You Fix It?

Thinking back on Susan’s awful experience, you can easily feel her pain and wonder what could she have done to prevent or avoid the energy sucking negativity of her co worker.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross once said, “Negativity can only feed on negativity”  Knowing this, it would be wise to consider the causes discussed earlier.  If we can eliminate the internal and external causes, negativity would be hindered significantly.

Most of the external causes fall to your environment which for many of us is the office.  Companies can take a noble responsibility in facing this problem.  After all, it’s costing them just as much as the individual.  I find former U.S. Secretary of Education WIlliam J. Bennett’s advice helpful.  In response to a seventh-grader’s question, “How can you tell a good country from a bad one?” he said, “I apply the gate test.  When the gates of a country are open, watch which way do the people run.  Do they run into the country or out of the country?

Unhappy employees are going to go somewhere, it’s much more profitable to keep them happy.

On the internal side, we as individuals can improve our optimism by understanding our personality, communication styles, stressors, and our perceptions.

The same tools individuals can use to understand their behavior and motivational styles can be used by businesses to understand their employees better.  I recommend two assessments that will help give you this knowledge.

1.  TTI Success Insights Behaviors and Motivators

2.  TTI Success Insights Emotional Intelligence

Knowing your communication styles, motivations, behavior styles, and emotional triggers will help you avoid negativity in the workplace and improve your overall workplace enjoyment.

Susan happened to know these things about herself from taking the assessments above.  Instead of reacting out of anger or emotion like many people understandably would, she stayed positive.  Her contribution to her work is awarded.  The principle over the district consistently reminds her of how thankful he is for her work ethic, she is recognized repeatedly in ceremonies, and her leaders go out of their way to make sure she is happy with her assignments.

The teacher on the other hand may be looking for another job in a few weeks.

image courtesy of Kia