We’ve all walked into a room at some stage and thought, “wow, you can cut this atmosphere with a knife”. The energy in the room is electric with negativity, conflict and possibly even anger. And most us would prefer to turn around and walk straight back out again.
A negative atmosphere can spiral out of control, and the ability for any kind of constructive conversation and collaboration is almost impossible. A calming approach is needed to turn it around, and quickly.
But have you thought about the “atmosphere” that your team or organisation is projecting?
Working within some teams, or trying to work with them, could be thought of with a sense of negativity (and even dread). They have a reputation of being negative or unhelpful, with an underlying conflict between team members, rudeness, frustration or a perceptible lack of respect.
However, a positive and forward-thinking culture has teams that are approachable, supportive and respectful, as well as creative and collaborative. Even when there are harder times, they can think about it as a positive challenge and will remain determined to succeed. They care what happens to their team (and the business as a whole), and can maintain their motivation.
When thinking about your team members, what words would they (or others) use to describe their team and the relationships within it? How would they describe the direction of the business, it’s current achievements and the communication with senior executives?
Listen to the regular discussions around the office and jot down the words that get used most often. Consider the words used with each other, about other departments, about the business, about the customers/service providers, about organisational expectations, employee relations and well-being. If they are competitive, is it in a constructive or destructive way?
Watch out for everyday metaphors used for trends in an organisation. Upward, positive trends are often described as actions of living things eg. Climbed higher, fought its way back. Downward, negative trends are often described as non-living objects that are subject to external forces eg dropped off a cliff, fell like a brick.
Then review these to discover whether they are predominately negative or positive.
And of course, take note of what you say and how you say it. What is the underlying message whenever you’re communicating. Would others describe you as demotivating or motivational? Even when the message is a difficult one, it can be understanding, supportive and full of determination – all of which still provide a sense of encouragement.
As you’ll have noticed from the above exercise, it’s important to be aware of the power of suggestion at play in your organisation. Once negativity starts, it can be contagious. But so can positivity, engagement and motivation.
It’s been well researched that when workers are happy and enjoy their role, they are more productive, stay in their jobs longer and provide better customer service. It has even been found that the share value of companies with engaged workers increases over time.
If you find that the atmosphere is biased towards negativity, it is possible to turn it around using leadership skills. Studies have shown that when groups of people were primed with either words reflecting rudeness or politeness, then they reacted to a conflict situation with the corresponding behaviour. Those primed with words relating to cooperation or achievement, demonstrated behaviour in line with those words.
- Think about the everyday language you are using, and increase the use of the words and metaphors that reflect the “atmosphere” you’d like to encourage eg. politeness, respect, cooperation, determination, achievement.
- Develop self-awareness of all team members, so that they can identify stress triggers and how they can take responsibility for improving working relationships and communication.
- Find out how people feel so you can work out what needs to be done regarding organisation-wide well-being.
- Provide opportunities for people to build and maintain supportive relationships.
- Recognise accomplishments and review how accomplishments are evaluated.
Plunging into an atmosphere you could cut with a knife isn’t beneficial for anyone. Finding a way to encourage a culture of cooperation, collaboration and engagement improves everyone’s well-being, as well as bottom line organisational results.