Workplace negativity is seemingly normal, but is there another way?

The workplace environment offers enormous potential when it comes to what we can learn about ourselves and each other. It teaches teamwork, collaboration, and an experience of how people can really come together and support each other to reach a common goal. It is potentially our most important learning ground for teamwork – leaving team sports, or ‘team building activities’ in the dust when it comes to the pure potential of learning to be ‘one of many working in union as one’.

While most people have experienced the positive aspects of being part of a team, equally most have also experienced the less than positive aspects of working together. The individual’s needs, wants, opinions and demands can come into play and very quickly disrupt, if not derail what could have been a flowing and easy experience of people working together. The individual (that is each of us) can want recognition, can want it his or her way so they feel more valued, can be frustrated or even angered at not being recognised, can demand in a variety of ways that it be their way and only their way, and on and on it goes. The individual who chooses to be the individual and work singularly, rather than as part of a team, has to by definition make it their way to fill their individual needs. That leaves the common goal nowhere to be seen.

The individual sounds pretty bad! But the point of this exposé is not to persecute the individual, for we all without question, at some time or another, bring our individual needs to work. The only question is – how often are we willing to surrender our personal wants and instead work as an unconditional member of a team? This is where we can start to consider our flaws.

Every person on the planet has flaws – their own combination of flaws unique to them – and rather than deny them or pretend they are not there, it’s time to bring them out of the proverbial closet for an application of full light that will potentially obliterate both the self-judgement and the judgement we have against one another that goes along with the flaws. Let me explain…

We all have flaws. One person may not be strong at speaking out, and so they have a flaw in not fully expressing their views. One person may get frustrated at a lack of working together, and so they have a flaw that gets triggered when there is teamwork that doesn’t flow. One person may have a flaw in being nice all the time (yes, being nice is a flaw), and so they are smiling and acting nicely when internally they are hiding their frustration or dissatisfaction. One person may react when things don’t go their way, and so they literally frighten those around them with their anger or rage. Another may undervalue themselves, and so they don’t bring the power and wisdom they have to the team.

The list goes on and on, and will do so in perpetuity, for we are human and we are thereby flawed. The issue is not that we are flawed, but it is how we judge, deride, criticise or expect perfection from one another. Of course, there is no question we can all work on our flaws and that type of self-reflection and personal development is a quality that is highly valued in any employee. Similarly, if someone’s behaviour is in any way detrimental to those around them, they must certainly and unquestioningly be supported to change that behaviour. The workplace has many processes in place to deal with poor and unacceptable behaviour, but rarely does it have a culture that does not have the unspoken, and (sadly) often spoken criticism of employees against one other.

Ponder for a moment how many conversations you have in a day at work that are detrimental to another colleague. Phrases like:

  • He never finishes that job well
  • She’s always late, you learn not to rely on her
  • He says things all the time, but he never does anything
  • She’s slacking off a lot of the time
  • She never stops talking
  • He’s not smart enough to handle that issue

Even though these are just made up examples, it can be a very sobering moment when you spend some time observing the statements that come out of both your own mouth and those around you –– you may notice that there can be a constant stream of negative and disempowering comments about other people. It can literally consume the day and be a significant hinderance to a harmonious workplace.

On the other hand, as a leader of corporate teams for many years, it has been my experience that one of the most effective ways to build a cohesive and harmonious team is to encourage a culture of inclusion and spaciousness where people see past the flaws of one another and instead see the strengths. The flaws will be addressed if they need to be, but in the meantime we cannot expect anyone to be perfect, or anyone to be exactly how we want them to be. In the same way that everyone has flaws, everyone also has strengths.

When someone is seen for who they are, their strengths cannot help but be seen.

As a leader, seeing people’s strengths, and fostering those strengths has proven time and time again to bring a level of harmony and job satisfaction that is inspirational beyond any expectations.

So next time you find yourself wanting to comment or complain to someone at work about another work colleague, think twice, for this is your opportunity to bring understanding, change the paradigm, and make it about who that person is at their core and what they do well, rather than what they don’t. We are all potential leaders in this way, regardless of our role at work.

When people know they are included, they are valued and they are seen, their flaws take a back seat, they show up as you see them, and they work as just that – a valued team member working on behalf of the team for a unified outcome.

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BehaviourConflictWork stress

  • By Heather Pope, Corporate Executive

  • Photography: Matt Paul