“Negative relationships at work can create a toxic environment characterized by conflict, criticism, jealousy, and rejection,” Jessica R. Methot, Ph.D., an associate professor at the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, tells Thrive. In addition to creating a toxic workplace, negative people can drag us down and get in the way of reaching our career goals. “We can find ourselves replaying negative conversations over and over again, distracting us from our work and draining our energy,” she adds. “That’s why it’s important to manage these relationships strategically.”
Here are a few tips that will help you stay positive, no matter who’s around:
Oftentimes we interpret our co-workers’ behaviors in ways they were not intended, Methot points out — and it’s important to stop ourselves from overthinking the tendencies that can come across as negative, in order to protect our own mood and mental health. “Simply because someone does not return an email immediately does not mean it is a signal that they are purposefully ignoring or undermining us,” she notes. “Consider the possibility that your co-worker just returned from traveling and is catching up on emails, or is overwhelmed by another project.” Methot advises that when we remind ourselves that an occasional bitter response is not always intentional, we allow ourselves to focus on the positive, without overanalyzing the seemingly negative.
Be mindful about your conversations
Once you recognize who is spreading negativity around the office, be conscious about your conversations with that person, Methot suggests. “If you know you will have to interact with this person at work, prepare yourself.” Methot recommends playing out the conversation in your mind first, and analyzing what parts might be stressful for you. “Prepare answers in advance,” she urges, “and create a positive space where you can relax before the interaction” in order to go into it with an open and positive mindset, and avoid being railroaded by any negative energy. By thinking mindfully about your interactions with the people who are typically pessimistic, you can detach yourself from the conversation in a way that allows you to think independently and stay positive.
Employ positive micro-interactions
Sometimes it helps to go out of your way to display small signs of gratitude or compassion that foster positive energy in a relationship. Methot says these “micro-interactions” can redirect a conversation or interaction toward building greater trust and positive regard, rather than letting it spiral downward,” she explains. When you sense that someone is more inclined to gossip around the office or complain about company policies, try inviting them out for a coffee break, or including them in a group conversation about something positive. The small act of kindness alone may counteract the negative conversations they often lean toward.
Show others that you’re an energizer
Whether you show your own positivity through lighthearted humor or personal compliments, Methot says it’s important to show others that you’re an uplifting presence, and to adopt an energizing mindset around the office. “The most effective people at work are ‘energizers,’” she explains. “Energizers engage with others in ways that fosters collaboration, innovation and a sense of purpose, and that don’t make people feel judged or dismissed.” When you show the people around you that you are a positive person, you can counteract some of their negative tendencies, and even make them think more optimistically.