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How to Develop a Positive Attitude in the Workplace

image for Sam Edwards / Getty Images
Sam Edwards / Getty Images

When something is going wrong, the first thing people usually say is to "stay strong" and "stay positive." Those little affirmations sometimes do work, and it's important to remember that words can go a long way during a time of negativity, especially in the workplace.

Always looking on the bright side "may sound cheesy, but just positive thinking, smiling and positivity in general are the main staples of a positive personal attitude," said Amy Finlay, co-founder of Edinburgh IFA. But what does a positive attitude have to do with the workplace?

Having a positive attitude in the workplace won't necessarily make you better at your job, but it will improve the way people view you as a person, so they may be more inclined to help you succeed and cheer you on.

"[A positive attitude] is important for many reasons, but one of the main reasons for having a positive attitude in the workplace is because it can rub off on everyone else," Finlay said. "Exuding positivity can be infectious and, over time, can influence your co-workers."

It seems like the importance of a positive attitude would be obvious, but it's so easy to become consumed with our own thoughts and dramas. In those times, whether you're going through a hard time or one of your co-workers is, you have to try to keep the negativity at bay.

"Misery may love company, but negativity has never lifted anyone up," said Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation. "You feel better when you surround yourself with positive people. They encourage you to reach for the stars, work hard and stay focused on fulfilling your dreams. Positivity begets more positivity. Over time, you may find that even the most stubborn person in the office who refuses to enjoy something has a change of heart and changes to be more positive, all because you had such a great attitude."

Understanding what makes for a negative attitude at work can help you work toward promoting and practicing a positive attitude.

"Negative and positive attitudes affect the workplace massively," Finlay said. "An employee with a bad attitude can really upset the apple cart in an office and create a really toxic environment. Positive attitudes can make the work environment happy and a joy to be in. I would happily take an office full of positive attitudes over negative ones, without a doubt."

Sweeney also knows how important attitudes are to the success of a workplace. "They either move the needle forward or keep it still. A positive attitude keeps everyone trying new things, feeling brave about brainstorming new ideas, and makes people feel excited to go to work with their co-workers."

Preaching positivity is easy. Putting it into practice and being genuine about it is more difficult.

"You can show a positive attitude through the words you use," Sweeney said. "Become a 'yes' person and try new things to see how you do. Give your time and ask co-workers how you can help them out if you have a free moment. Volunteer to take the lead on new assignments. Be kind to everyone and genuine – do not gossip constantly or spread rumors."

Rachel Sheerin, keynote speaker on burnout and happiness, says that positive people radiate a different energy.

"Positive people show their positive attitude in their words, actions and feelings," she said. "Positive people radiate differently, just by walking in a room with their energy – it changes the world and people around them."

The general consensus among experts is that showing a positive attitude is all about your demeanor. Speaker and personal development coach Jessi Beyer said that showing a smile rather than looking miserable can alter the mood of an entire office. She also said that the way you react to situations and relate to co-workers can make a big difference.

"Not only does having a positive attitude in the workplace make your day much more fun and more productive, but it affects your co-workers as well," Beyer said. "Would you prefer to be surrounded by co-workers with negative attitudes who all hate their lives and their jobs, or would you prefer to be surrounded by co-workers who are focusing on their wins, no matter how small, and learning from their failures?"

Not everyone is going to be positive all the time. That's an unrealistic idea. But even when people are down and at their most negative, there are things one can do to deal with those emotions and actions around the office to keep them from impacting others. Even if it's just one co-worker causing an issue, take matters into your own hands for your own happiness at work.

  1. Choose who you associate with carefully. "If you find yourself surrounded by negative co-workers, see if you can switch cubicles or teams within the same department," Beyer said. "Make conscious decisions with your space and your time at work that will result in surrounding yourself with co-workers with positive attitudes."

    In that vein, "I am someone who will deliberately avoid spending time with people who have a bad attitude at work, or anywhere for that matter," Finlay said. "As a positive attitude can be contagious, unfortunately, a negative attitude can also spread through people, and before you know it, your mindset can completely change with too much exposure to these types of people."
  1. Be encouraging. "I encourage my clients and their teams to remember that everyone is trying their best," Sheerin said. "No one wakes up in the morning wanting to screw up or do a bad job – so give some consideration and empathy to others."

  2. Ask questions and don't assume. "No matter the positive or negative attitudes at work, it's important to be mindful in the workplace," said Lizzie Benton, culture consultant at Liberty Mind. "Rather than letting yourself be consumed by a negative attitude, question why that person might be coming across in that way. Don't take it personally, and do your best to build a barrier against negative comments or behaviors."

Psychologists generally agree that our brains are hardwired to put more of our focus and energy on bad news. Maybe it's because we are surrounded by it, now more than ever in the age of instant news and videos of tragedies being uploaded seconds after they happen. But does that mean the human race is doomed to live in a cloud of negative energy? Most experts say no.

"The thought that you need 10 positive experiences to write over one negative one can definitely be true," Beyer said. "One way to combat this is to approach the outcomes of negative situations with a learning mentality. Find one small takeaway from a situation and your perception of that situation as negative will start to shrink."

Many people believe you can train your brain to combat the negativity bias.

"I think there is probably something to it, and like anything else with the human brain, we can train ourselves to ignore it," Finlay said. "I believe that everything we do that becomes a habit can be changed if we continue to work on it hard enough. If you are constantly reverting to negativity, it will take an applied and concentrated approach to break this habit, but stick with it and eventually you'll see that the grass is actually greener on the bright side of life."

Sheerin agreed that you can train your perspective and brain with positivity. "The wolf you feed always gets stronger."

Maintaining a positive attitude takes work; it won't always be easy.

"A good example of keeping a positive attitude is to stop complaining," Sweeney said. "This can be hard to do, I know! If the company you work for experiences changes, like new management, don't complain endlessly about what is happening and how it may impact you negatively. See change as a good thing that leads to growth and success for the business and you personally."

Jennifer Post

Jennifer Post graduated from Rowan University in 2012 with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. Having worked in the food industry, print and online journalism, and marketing, she is now a freelance contributor for Business News Daily and Business.com. When she's not working, you will find her exploring her current town of Cape May, NJ or binge watching Pretty Little Liars for the 700th time.