How someone handles negativity says a great deal about who they are as a leader. Leaders are not just people who get work done – they illustrate how that work can be done.
“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”John C. Maxwell
If you find yourself feeling negative, reactive, or frustrated – others notice. Over time this will chip at your brand and you can be labeled (consciously or unconsciously) by those making decisions as someone who lacks leadership potential.
Don’t let this happen to you.
I’m sharing with you two examples of negativity that I’ve witnessed frequently over the course of my career. These examples provide an opportunity to resist negativity and instead take leadership.
Situation 1: You are asked a question about your work and the answer involves reliance on another person.
- Boss/Colleague: “Do you have [work product]?”
- You (frustrated/annoyed tone): “I sent a request to Johnny Smith last week and I haven’t heard back from him….. I’ll follow-up.”’
Airing grievances about others – even a side and pointed comment – makes you look petty, like you lack ownership, and like you lack leadership.
Let me explain.
If this was a priority, someone effectively managing their work would of followed up sooner. A leader would have identified any early issues with the timeline and renegotiated, provided feedback, or escalated the issue. They would not have got frustrated and made a dig towards a colleague in a meeting.
Here is a better approach to a question like this one:
- “I’ll follow-up.”
- “I’ve been meaning to discuss our partnership with the XYZ team, I’ll schedule a call to discuss.”
Both of these responses illustrate a level of ownership on your part. If there is a larger issue at hand, saying you’ll discuss it at a later date ensures that you don’t derail the current meeting. Regardless of the other partners involved in the scenario, it’s important you show that you recognize your role in the success of the work project.
Situation 2: Someone in your workplace is complaining about someone else.
The worst thing you can do is join in. The second is to say nothing.
Here are 3 approaches to address this situation:
- “Johnny Smith? Wow. My experience with him has always been incredibly positive.”
- This is the perfect response for when someone is gossiping or speaking ill of someone else.
- By countering the negativity in the conversation, the person speaking has to choose between insisting the person is as they say or dropping it. They typically just drop it.
- Not only does this show you are not going to jump into talking poorly about someone else, it shows you also speak up for others.
- “I’m sorry to hear that, have you given him that feedback?”
- This is a great response for when someone is frustrated with someone else and you suspect they haven’t addressed it.
- By asking them if they’ve addressed it, the conversation changes to one around problem-solving instead of a venting spiral.
- “I know that this situation is very challenging and I appreciate all you’ve done to alleviate it. What can we control about this situation?”
- When someone is confiding in you about a real issue, show empathy.
- Know the difference between venting and a cry for help by asking questions.
- Avoid trying too hard to “stay positive” because this lacks empathy and awareness. Leaders acknowledge the situation and then identify what’s within their ability to influence and control.
So…. when can I vent?
Venting is healthy and important but venting to colleagues invariably comes back to you. If you consistently say negative things about others, people begin to distrust you and take you less seriously. It’s a good practice to find a friend in another company that is in a similar place in their career. This way you can learn and rise together – and have some vent sessions in confidence.
Rachel Woodman has 13 years of sales, marketing, and business experience primarily within Corporate America. She loves to learn, coach, and otherwise discuss all things leadership, career, job skills, and resume building which led to the launch of @ThatCareerChic. She currently resides in Minneapolis-St. Paul.