by Amanda Viana, Head Editor, INALJ Massachusetts
5 Ways to Keep Negativity at Bay
There’s a lot of variety to the blog posts on INALJ; some are expert posts, some are tips & tricks, and still others are stories of professional journeys and growth. This post is a bit of all of the above. Lately I’ve been finding myself in a negativity rut—prone to falling into complaint sessions, negative thoughts, and mega stress. So I’ve put together this list, “5 ways to keep negativity at bay” to share with all of you, but also for me. I am far from perfect—I’ve performed any and all of the bad behaviors listed below—but I’m hoping this list will help me reinforce positive behaviors and e-li-min-ate the negative!
1. Change the Conversation
We’ve all been there—whether it’s at the water cooler or in the staff room or even out on the floor—you’ve gotten caught up in a complaint vortex. Maybe you’re even the one who started it; I know I’m guilty of that. Either way the conversation is heading nowhere good, and it’s getting there fast. What do you do? How do you turn it around without compromising rapport with a coworker? Change the conversation. Bring up a project that you’re really excited about or just finished. Tell them a story of a great success helping a patron. Throw in a joke or a funny anecdote from your weekend. Find something even tangentially related and switch it up. “You know that reminds me of a great movie I saw / article I read / conversation I had…” If you know them well enough ask about their weekend, a hobby they have, their family or pets. Don’t know them very well? Ask some questions to get to know them better. It’s amazing how quickly most people will jump at the opportunity to celebrate positivity rather than dwell in negativity. A lot of people think that venting is helpful; it’s been my experience that venting just spreads out the negativity. You may feel a little lighter after you share, but the person you’re venting to just picked up some of that bad energy (or vice-versa) and that can lead to a domino effect that has everyone having a bad day. Ultimately you can only control your own attitude and behavior. You can strive to be a good example for others but you can’t make them drop the negative behavior. Some people will bring the conversation back to complaints again and again and at that point it’s time to politely excuse yourself and move on to the next step.
2. Escape the Negativity
Can’t escape with verbal strategies? Then it’s time to remove yourself physically. Politely excuse yourself and move to another location. Sometimes it’s tough; with coworkers and patrons you can be a captive audience. Even if the only place you can excuse yourself is to the restroom, at least you’ll have a few minutes of silence. And most people will have given up and moved on by the time you get back. (And if you started the venting, they’ll be relieved that you just gave them an out.) If at all possible get outside. I would be the last person to describe myself as “outdoorsy” but over the summer, on some great advice, I would take my lunch outside in the library park. I can’t tell you how good it felt to get out of the building, even for 25 minutes, and enjoy the fresh air and the quiet. Sunshine, nature, quiet, and no work- related interruptions: an honest to goodness break. That can turn around even the worst days. Don’t have a park to sit in? Take 10 minutes of your break to go outside, even if it’s just to walk around the building. If that doesn’t work for you, find a sunny window—just get yourself to a place where you can truly get away from work and have time for your own quiet, positive thoughts and recharge.
3. Work on a Pet Project
Sometimes your highest-priority project is the most fun, enjoyable, creative thing on your to-do list; most of the time it’s not. We’ve all got a list in the back of our mind of these interesting projects we’re working on, of even just daily duties that we find more enjoyable than others. Got the budget blues? Cataloging complications? Purchasing problems? If you can, set those tasks aside for a bit. A half hour of fun work can help you get back into a positive groove, ready to tackle those other challenges. When your creativity is flowing and you’re getting enjoyment from your work it can be easier to return to the less exciting duties. Plus it will give you something positive to talk about when someone tries to suck you into their negativity sphere.
4. Start a Brag Book
This is actually a recommendation that came straight from my boss (thanks, Lee!) and it’s really been working for me. I’m one of those type-A, perfectionists who feel that they have to “DO ALL THE THINGS!” to be successful. I’m my own harshest critic and the first person to forget my successes and dwell on perceived shortcomings. So my boss suggested I start a file, which I’m calling my “brag book” with positive comments, achievements, successes, and important tasks that can fly under the radar. She even gave me a photograph she took of me helping a senior borrow books with his kindle to get it started. When someone gives me a compliment that makes me glow, I write it in my book. That small act of recording extends my warm-and-fuzzy feelings and gives me a record to go back to on bad days when I’m not feeling very successful. It reminds me that hard work has measurable results and that other people see that even when I don’t.
5. Know When to Leave Work at Work!
Don’t let work take over you whole existence; make sure you have a life outside of work. This is one of my biggest challenges. I have the hardest time letting go of negative events and feelings that I’ve had during the day. When things are stressful at work it can affect my mood, my appetite, and my sleep patterns at home. Sometimes you have to take projects home, and I think most of us spend time thinking about solutions, services, and programs even when we’re not at work. I think that’s normal and okay for people who are dedicated to and invested in their careers. But I also think that the hours outside of work should mainly be spent with family and friends, learning new things, exploring new hobbies, relaxing, and enjoying life. I truly believe that being a relaxed, well-rounded person makes you a better professional. Leaving the stresses of the work day behind make it so much easier to come back in a happy and positive way; and a positive attitude can be just as contagious as a negative one!