Cornell Local Roads Program

Managing Negativity in the Workplace

Craig Price: Owner, ‘Price Points’

Crowd attending "Negativity" talk

There are a lot of various programs and books out there that claim they can eliminate all negativity. And while they are all well intentioned, they cannot deliver on that promise because negativity is a natural, ingrained thought process. You can’t get rid of it. Not completely, anyway. Even if you are able to miraculously suppress all your negative thoughts, negative things will still happen to you. It would be like claiming they can eliminate all sickness, war, and death from the world. It’s just not possible. But you can manage the negativity in your life. To manage negativity you need to admit that it exists and that it’s a part of life. Stuff happens. How we deal with that stuff is the key. Life isn’t always going to go as planned, so we need to learn how to play the cards we’re dealt, not hope and wish we had different cards. So how can we manage negativity?

Managing Negativity:

  1. Find the value. Everything has value. Everything. If you have fears, worries and doubts, it’s your brain telling you “Hey! This could be trouble!” Take a look at why you have those fears or worries. Understanding the cause can often neutralize it. Fear is not always a bad thing. Fear tells you to run out of a burning building. Fear tells you to put on your seat belt. Fear tells you to double check your work. Being cautious and avoid problems before they happen is a good thing. You need a few negative thoughts to keep yourself balanced, protected and prepared so if things don’t go as planned, you’re not blindsided. Jumping into a situation without a backup plan can be catastrophic just as getting bogged down with too many horrible scenarios is ineffective too. A positive attitude combined with some negative thinking can lead to success. Isn’t that why people say “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst”?
  2. Take action. And I certainly don’t mean taking action for action’s sake. That’s just silly and usually leads to wasted time and effort, but take action when negativity comes into play. It is when fear and negativity get out of our control and stop us from taking action that it becomes an issue. Remember, side-stepping a problem is still action. It may not have been “moving forward” (a mantra used much too often. Sometimes when you’re moving forward you step off a cliff), but a lateral move can sometimes be more effective. Why spend extra time and extra effort trying to correct mistakes we could have avoided with just a little foresight? Risk assessment is a huge part of our world. Taking a moment to think what the drawbacks of an idea could be is just as valuable as thinking of the rewards. It’s better to take a moment to think an idea through than to rush a flawed idea into a major mistake.
  3. Allow yourself the opportunity to fail. We can’t be all things to all people, and we can’t accomplish every task we set out to do. Too many people strive for perfection when most tasks only require completion. By accepting the occasional failure, you won’t be as afraid to try. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but allowing yourself a chance to fail opens up unexpected results. While directing his mega-hit movie Jaws, Steven Spielberg discovered, a bit too late, that his mechanical shark wouldn’t work very well in the open water. It also looked obviously fake. Because of that failure, he had to shoot the film in an entirely different style. Instead of great shots of a ferocious monster throughout the film, the way he wanted, Steven (Yes, we’re on a first name basis, even if he doesn’t know it yet) had to completely change the style and feel of the movie since he couldn’t show you the shark. This breakdown of equipment made the movie more suspenseful and an instant classic!

Craig Price with "Jaws"


Craig Price with "Miss Utah"

Negative thinking can be a huge advantage to those who manage it properly. By finding the value in it, taking action and accepting the possibility of failure, negative thinking can have some very positive results. It can increase productivity, prevent problems and open up new, unexpected pursuits. Life is constantly about balance. And if you’re only allowing one side of your natural self to be used, while constantly trying to eliminate another, you’ll always be out of whack.

Craig Price is a speaker, trainer, and consultant. He specializes in taking your natural thought processes and turning them into productivity. Visit his website, or his blog.

The photos accompanying this article are from Craig’s presentations at this year’s Highway School, held in Ithaca on June 1-3. His afternoon breakout sessions entitled “Getting a Grip on Mistakes, Rumors and Complaints” were highly attended and rated as most useful. He also gave a presentation to the General Session.

Summer 2009

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License icon

This work by the Cornell Local Roads Program (CLRP) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.