Merge's Blog

Overcome workplace negativity by challenging extreme language

The subject of workplace negativity and what to do about it comes up repeatedly in my practice.  The biggest problem with negativity is that it is contagious, which means that it usually starts with just one or two situations or people, but then, if left unchecked, rapidly spreads throughout the department or organization.  So leaders everywhere are constantly asking me what specific concrete things they can do to avoid negativity or at least limit it from spreading.  In previous blog posts, I have offered the following proven solutions:

Here’s another option: challenge extreme language.  This means that you must have the presence of mind to object when you hear your employees use extreme words such as always or never.  Challenge the person: ask what s/he meant by using the words always or never.  For example, if you hear your employee Rebecca say “There’s no point in offering feedback to other departments, it’s never listened to,” stop her and ask the following question.

“Rebecca, what do you mean when you say never?  The last time Amy and Peter from the team offered a suggestion to the Accounts Payable department, it was acted on and they changed their procedures.”

Or you could say, “I think never is a pretty strong word Rebecca.  When it was your idea to stagger our opening hours, I investigated that option thoroughly.”

My point is that negative people will often use extreme words in their conversations for emphasis and impact, because it generates sensationalism.  But as a leader, you can’t let this slide.  You have to challenge those extreme words, because if you don’t, there is a danger that incorrect beliefs will grow and expand, and before you know it, the myths will begin to take on the appearance of facts.  Negative people view the glass as half-empty instead of half-full.  It’s up to you to point out the half-full, instead of the half empty.  So challenge extreme language.

Have you challenged situations of extreme language in your workplace?  Why or why not?


  • Agree. Even those who aspire to leadership have a role or even responsibility to challenge negativism or extreme language since failure to do so as a staff member makes it difficult to do so as the leader. And who wants to work in a negative environment anyway, so challenge for your own sake even if you don’t want to be in “official” leadership.

    And in regard to the half full/half empty comments. Accountants have been known to ask..”Why is the glass so big?”

  • You’re funny Richard … yes, I too have heard the “why is the glass so big?” comment. But seriously, glad to see that you concur on the importance of challenging negativity.


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