negative thought patterns at work - 5 tips

5 Tips for Shedding Negative Thought Patterns at Work

We are currently living through a global crisis, unlike anything we have experienced in our lifetime. Our personal and professional lives have been disrupted. Many of us have been working remotely from home and are unsure when we will go back to the office (and what changes we will face when we do). We are concerned about our health, and our loved ones, and we are constantly bombarded by negative news. If all that you are experiencing right now has you feeling anxious, stressed out, and thinking more negatively than ever before, I am here to tell you that this is NORMAL.

 As you will learn in this article, negativity bias is a natural response on any regular day. Add in the chaos of the current global pandemic, and I would be surprised if you were not feeling and thinking more pessimistically these days. The amazing thing is that once you understand this and spot your negative thinking patterns, you can do something about it.

Focusing more heavily on negative experiences versus positive ones is completely normal, and even ‘natural’ from an evolutionary standpoint. That said, when we see the world through the dark lens of negativity, we do not see the world accurately or objectively. The bias of these negative thought patterns at work has the potential to derail the success of the entire organization, particularly in times of change and uncertainty like we are experiencing now: 

  • Negative thoughts may cause us to ‘play it safe.’ When making decisions, we may ignore the potential benefits of new ideas and choose the comfort of what is familiar in order to avoid risk. 
  • Negativity impacts our interactions with others in the workplace, making it harder to collaborate and work as a team.
  • When we dwell on the negative, it is more difficult to accept constructive feedback from managers and supervisors and to build trust with coworkers.
  • A focus on the negative can lead us to assume the worst about new ideas and changes in the workplace; we may fall into the trap of pessimistic assumptions and fail to give change a chance.

The solution to these problems is not to encourage your employees and team members to switch their bias to the positive. In fact, a culture of false positivity can ruin a business just as well as negativity can. In this article, you will learn why negativity is normal, how to spot negative thought patterns at work, and how we (both leaders and workers) can reframe our minds and improve our work environment.

Negativity Is Normal

If your inner monologue sounds a little more like Eeyore than Tigger, you are not alone. The well-researched name for this is ‘negativity bias,’ and it refers to our tendency to pay closer attention to negative information than positive information. In practice, this may mean that you think about negative experiences more often positive ones, dwell on unpleasant events, and rely on negative information when making decisions.

changing negative thought patterns

Researchers believe that negativity bias is an adaptive evolutionary function. Simply put, our ancestors had to deal with a lot of environmental threats. Paying attention to negative stimuli could help them avoid dangers such as predators and other unsafe scenarios. Flash forward to today in the era of COVID-19, and negativity bias is a lot less useful than it once was, although still prevalent—especially as we are bombarded with negative news and facing extreme disruptions in our personal and professional lives. 

5 Common Negative Thought Patterns at Work

Negativity bias can play out in several different negative thought patterns at work – whether you are working remotely or in a workplace with other people. Here are some that you should watch out for.

1. Black and White Thinking

When our thoughts include the words “always,” “never,” “everything,” or “nothing,” we are often engaging in black and white thinking: either/or scenarios where there is no gray area. For example, at work, we may think, “My supervisor never likes my ideas” or “Nothing I do ever makes an impact.”

2. Fortune Telling

Fortune telling is when we predict an outcome and believe it as a fact. It is often a prediction based out of fear and paralyzes forward movement. For example, when a new change is announced at work, we may think, “There’s no point in adopting this change. It’s not going to work.”

3. Overgeneralizing

Overgeneralizing is another way we may make a prediction based on fear and not fact. When overgeneralizing, we take one negative experience and predict future adverse events. For example, “My first try using this new software was a complete failure. I’m never going to learn this technology.”

4. Minimizing/Maximizing

Minimizing is when we fail to give ourselves credit for the positive things we do and instead brush them away. For example, “My supervisor told me I did really well on this project, but it was an easy one. Anyone could have done it well.”

Maximizing is the opposite of minimizing; it is when we hear about a problem and start thinking of tragic ‘what if’ scenarios. For example, we may hear about a change at work and immediately think, “What if I’m going to lose my job?”

5. Should Statements

Statements that use the words ‘should,’ ‘ought,’ or ‘must’ set up unrealistic expectations and add extra, unnecessary pressure in the way of self-blame and self-criticism. For example, “I should have spoken up during the meeting.” 

Tips for Shedding Negative Thought Patterns at Work

The examples above are just a few of the many cognitive distortions that lead to negative thought patterns at work. So, what can you – and your colleagues and team members at work – do about this?

1. Increase Self-Awareness

Often times, we practice negative thinking without even realizing we are doing it because it is part of our normal routine and behavior. Like any habit, the first step in changing it is to recognize when it happens. When you find yourself experiencing a negative emotion such as anger, resentment, or frustration, think back to the thoughts and events that triggered that reaction. Can you reframe that event or experience in a more objective way? Can you find a more adaptive response to the situation?

2. Be Kind to Yourself

Self-acceptance is the acknowledgment of who you are, both your strengths and your weaknesses.

Everyone has flaws, and we rarely make a big deal out of other people’s flaws. How about trying to forgive yourself for your own weaknesses too? Recognize when you are being too critical of yourself and STOP. Also, remember that what you DO is not who you ARE. Your behaviors are actions, not part of your identity, and actions can be changed.

3. Be Kind to Others

Sometimes the key to defeating negativity is to simply practice positivity more often. Like everything, you will get better over time, and soon you will find that positive thinking is part of your normal routine. Praise the strengths and talents of your coworkers. Recognize their contributions. And if you find that you have acted in a not-so-kind way to others, don’t be afraid to apologize and take action to improve the consequences of the past.

4. Contemplate What You Can Learn

Dwelling on failure is counterproductive. Although you may allow yourself a short 2-3 minute pity party, quickly brush that off and then focus your thoughts more productively. There are lessons to be learned from any negative experience, including global pandemics and economic downturns. The key is to focus on the future, not the past.

5. Ground Negatives in Facts

Negative thinking is subjective, and a great way to pull yourself out is to focus on facts and objective reality. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there an alternative explanation as to why this happened?
  • What evidence is there to support this belief?
  • Does doing this really mean that will happen? Or could something else happen?

Saying Goodbye to Negativity in the Workplace

Negative thought patterns are completely normal—especially in these days of global uncertainty. However, it is important to catch ourselves in the act and reframe our thinking. On an individual level, negative thoughts can destroy our self-esteem and connection with others. On an organizational level, negative thinking can stand in the way of change and prevent progress. If your leadership team could benefit from more tips on how to create positive change in your work and community, check out my keynotes, and book an event.