How Anger and Negativity Is Destroying the Workplace (and what to do about it)

We have been through a political season and the mudslinging is in full bloom. Every wonder why this tactic is so popular?

Because it works.

Research has shown that when one person speaks negatively about another, it increases the bias in the other’s brain – even when both people know this information is false.

Our brain is hardwired for survival. Unlike Apple and Microsoft who upgrade their systems often, the nervous has not upgraded in 100,000 years. So when negativity shows up in conversation (or in a commercial), the brain perceives this as a threat and confusion sets in. The seed of doubt has been planted.

Think about work; has negativity taken over your workplace with cynicism, sarcasm and irritability the new normal? In an organization, the impact of this negativity can continue for years as good people leave organizations, morale suffers, momentum is lost, productivity suffers and errors increase.

Happy people produce. And productivity makes people happy.

Once seeds of resentment and negativity are planted, mistrust grows, relationships fail and connections are lost. I am asked frequently if “a little venting” is ok. I would ask you, how much poison can you take before you get sick?

Today, neuroscience shows that the brain’s plasticity is quite remarkable and the more often you respond in a certain way, the easier it is to respond in that way. The more you express anger and negativity, the more you compromise your ability to express emotions in a healthy way, make good decisions and exercise good judgement.

Too often when people express their anger, there is a misguided confidence and righteous indignation that feels good – and it encourages even more anger. Yet, keeping anger bottled up inside makes hi-jacking more likely and compromises your health.  So what is the solution?

Anger, like other emotions, conveys information;  like the oil light on your car’s dashboard, emotions are a warning to take some type of action. In order to notice the warning light, you have to be present and aware of what is going on inside of you. Unfortunately, it is normal to be distracted, making it easier to be hi-jacked emotionally.

Try this. When you notice you are angry, start breathing, on a count of 4. In on 4, hold it on 4 and then exhale on 4. You are resetting your stress reaction. This should stop any type of knee jerk reaction you will regret later.

Practice mindfulness, being present, Use your breath and simply bring your mind into the present moment; stop thinking about the problem, the past or the future. Be present and use the ‘Count of 4’ breathing to bring you back to your center.

Once you are calmer, you can reflect on what triggered your anger. What do you want to do about it? Anger is an indication there needs to be better boundaries. Are you pleasing others at your expense? Even though someone else may be the trigger for your anger, it is up to you to manage it. Yelling at the other person never gets you what you want nor does it advance the conversation.

If you feel the urge to complain, vent or talk about someone because you are angry, practice the 4 count breathing and think twice about it. Do you really want to share this negative feeling? Or would it be better to lift your mood and others with a story that is positive, uplifting and hopeful?

Positive emotions naturally lead to more resource thinking, creativity and a more energized workforce. You will feel happier at work. And when you do, spread it around.


Cynthia Howard RN, CNC, PhD, Master Coach, Author and creator of HEAL program, helps you release what is no longer working. HEAL helps you understand your emotions and leverage your feelings to get more of what you really want.


About the Author Cynthia Howard RN, CNC, PhD

I help individuals master their mindset and move beyond the barriers that keep them from their true potential. Let me help you go beyond the B.S. - Belief Systems that limit your potential.

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