The No. 1 Sign of Toxic Workplaces? Constant Negativity — 6 Ways to Deal

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Marja Verbon16
COO & Founder, Jump.Work
May 22, 2024 at 2:7AM UTC

Encountering negativity at work can be hard. Really hard.

For me, there’s always one story that comes to mind. I was leading a meeting to discuss an important strategy shift. It was the culmination of 3 months of work and I had put in a lot of late nights. 

From the outset, I encountered negativity from a senior team member. Whether they felt they should have been leading or simply disagreed with my process, it didn’t matter—they didn’t want me to succeed. After interruptions and some petty distractions, they stood up, claimed they weren’t needed (they were) and stormed out.

If you haven’t been in this exact scenario, a lot of you will likely have similar stories or experiences.

Maybe it was a colleague who disrupted or sabotaged meetings because they didn’t see the purpose of something. Maybe it was a team member who refused to experiment or try anything new because they were so certain it would fail. Or maybe you’ve seen microaggressions or encountered coworkers who constantly criticize you and your work. 

As an entrepreneur, I’ve encountered those first two scenarios countless times, which almost always hinders innovation. As a female entrepreneur, I’ve had to deal with that last example more times than I can count. 

And no matter how positive a person you are (something that female entrepreneurs are constantly reminded they have to be) or how good you feel that day, negativity and negative people can and will always affect you in some way.

Fortunately, I’ve had to learn a few tricks about handling and overcoming this kind of negativity. While these tricks aren’t foolproof, they’ll help you deal and push through these kinds of situations and keep you confident and on the road to success. 

1. Focus on the facts.

I’m starting with this one because I’ve found it is often the quickest and easiest way to shut down negativity aimed at my work or opinions.

Often negativity is an emotional response—but if you focus on objective facts and figures, you’ll always come out on top. Sometimes you’ll even bring about a change of heart in the other person. Data rarely lies and is often one of the most persuasive tools at your disposal. Whether you’re leading a new project, joining an existing one, or simply in a brainstorming session, use the data you have at your disposal. It’s a great way to confront and overcome negativity.

2. Take it with a healthy pinch of salt.

When encountering negativity, I always try to take some time to stop and think about it and understand what and why it’s happening. This way, I can take control of the situation and turn it into a healthy and objective discussion instead of a heated and emotional argument.

Ask yourself, “How can I turn this into a positive situation?” 

Place any comments in the context of the person’s interests, perspective or emotions so you can understand why they are coming at you this way. Try not to judge straight away or take something personally. This is much easier said than done, but tackling the heart of the situation can often uncover some unknown cause—perhaps a colleague struggling with a bigger problem you were unaware of—that can lead to positive change and progress.

3. Build a positive cycle.

This is one of my favorites and a recent addition to both my daily and weekly routines. 

In essence, focus on the things you can control and not those you can’t. Reward yourself for the effort you put in, not just the results you achieve. This way, you create a positive, self-reinforcing cycle in your daily life that can become the cornerstone of your working process, no matter what others may say (or do) to you.

4. Be the positive influence.

This can be one of the hardest to stick by in the face of continued negativity. However, it can help to instill a culture that permeates through your whole business and ensure success at every level.

Bringing positivity into the work environment is a great way to lead by example. While it can take some time, it removes the space for negativity across your teams and colleagues, even when you aren’t present. 

What you get is not always what you give, but if you stick by it, it may be pretty close.

5. Accept that certain people are more negative than others.

There have been scenarios where I’ve tried all of these tips and still gotten nowhere with certain people. In these situations, the best you can do is accept that certain people are negative and have a negative influence on you, your mood and motivation. Acknowledging there is a problem is the first step to solving it.

Here, by acknowledging it, you can begin to set healthy boundaries in the workplace and ensure your interactions are kept to a minimum and only when required.

This will keep you focused on the positive areas of your work. It also means those times you do face negativity don’t block you as much as you focus on the task at hand, and nothing else. And in those rare cases when it remains bad, always consider discussing the topic with a colleague in the HR team.

6. Don’t settle.

Remember a job is just a job. We work to live and not the other way around. You can always change. If you feel your company culture is not a good match for you, or that you’re in a hostile work environment, it may be time to rethink and explore some new, more positive options.


Marja Verbon is the founder of Jump - a job recommendation platform that helps job-seekers navigate the confusing job market and get the right job recommendations based on their experience and ambitions, and in turn, helps businesses attract the right talent for them. You can follow her on social media under the handle @marjaverbon on Linkedin, Instagram, Tiktok, Facebook and Twitter.

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