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Three Negative Outlooks and Workplace Performance


Feelings of negativity do not always end up in poor performance in the workplace unless you allow them to. Awareness of common types of negative emotions associated with the workplace, and knowledge of the channels through which they usually flow can help you control negative emotions and use their energy for superior performance. Interestingly, those in the normal workplace receive surrounding support that helps to buffer their negativity, but for those at the top, especially employers, it is only their personal awareness of situations that can save the day.

While almost everyone would insist on maintaining a positive attitude, it's not always easy or feasible to plaster a smile on your face and have vacant eyes when you are having a bad time. This article deals with common negative feelings in the workplace and their consequences.

It is documented that negative emotions can have a benign effect on performance when feelings of unhappiness, disappointment or jealousy stimulate positive action for changing the state of things. However, negative emotions also give rise to destructive behavior – retributive anger, for example.

It is more important to be balanced in the workplace than just go determinedly after a positive attitude: positive expectations increase the chances of disappointment and frustration where ‘preparing for the worst,' though a negative attitude, has been found to be sound philosophy.

Handicapping one's own self:

Self-handicapping your performance is one of the most common and overlooked negative phenomena in the workplace. We often perceive, and contribute to making situations more difficult than they are in a bid to preserve self-esteem. We do this so that we can blame failure on factors beyond our control. Thus our competence is not brought into question. However, if we are able to find success, we can establish and enumerate the number of obstacles that needed to be dealt with in order to achieve.

Another common self-handicapping mechanism is holding “I care least about what happens to me.” It may produce short term mental relief but would hurt your career in the long term.

Self-defeating persistence: Refusing to give up

Persistence is a quality greatly admired in work-cultures, but a common counterproductive behavior is keeping at a means to reach a positive goal, even after realizing that while the goal may be right, the means is wrong and other means have to be found. Admitting the choice of means was wrong can reduce self-esteem and in trying to protect it people keep hammering at methods which should have long been discarded. This is not persistence, it is stubbornness, and it is important to differentiate one from the other.

Choking under pressure:

Another common negative attitude, ‘choking under pressure' moves a person to procrastinate on the pretext of perfectionism, and fail where success was easy and within reach. Consciously, the subject ignores practicality and keeps moving the goal post beyond feasible reach.

While there are many negative emotions and outlooks that can be discussed about the workplace, the three discussed here are of importance because they are often overlooked and are in fact considered to be positive attitudes without clear perception. People at the top are more susceptible to these affectations than regular employees.

Manuel London, Career Barriers: How People Experience, Overcome, and Avoid Failure (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998)