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Is Your Negative Attitude Hurting Your Career? (Answer: Probably)

In any situation — a bar, the subway, a movie theatre — you don’t want to be that guy (or gal). There is no strict definition of what it means to be that person, but usually it refers to the person who stands out for all the wrong reasons.

In a bar, it’s the guy who won’t stop hitting on you.

In the subway, it’s the woman who eats a cheeseburger and fries, filling the entire car with an onion aroma.

At the movies, it’s the patron who leaves her cell phone ringer on.

Wherever you are, you don’t want to be that person. Especially at work.

Of course, at work you’ll find plenty of bad traits. The gossip, the chronically tardy person, the kiss-up and everyone else you try to avoid. Perhaps the one type you want to avoid (hanging around and being) more than any other is the negative person. The negative person hates everything. Every task is too lowly; every meeting lasts too long; every co-worker is too dumb. Nary has a word passed through his or her lips that’s not dripping with sarcasm.

If you realize that you are this furrow-browed employee, the chorus of sighs and complaints, accented with eye rolls, will earn you the worst reputation of everyone. And whether or not you’re aware, your boss will notice, too.

First impressions count

One reason interviews cause job seekers so much anxiety is the need to make a favourable first impression. Although qualifications make up the bulk of the hiring decision, employers are also looking at the kind of attitude you display to determine whether or not you’d be an asset to the organization. Lauren Milligan, host of the business radio show Livin’ the Dream, advises job seekers to temper any negativity they have involving their previous jobs.

“During an interview, a common question posed to the candidate is, ‘What problems did you encounter in your previous job?’ A negative employee will use this time to talk about their boss, co-workers, job functions — anything that didn’t sit quite well with [him or her],” Milligan says. “Don’t do that! A positive employee will see this question as a chance to talk about a difficult situation and how they turned it into a good experience.”

The clichéd business advice of bringing your boss solutions, not problems, is actually true.

“Negative employees think of how problems affect them while positive employees think of how they can solve a challenge,” Milligan says.

Everyday behaviour
Of course, maintaining an upbeat attitude for 30 minutes or an hour during an interview is far easier than fighting off grumpiness every day. You’ll probably have to vent once in a while because some days will be bigger pains than others, and few people would hold that against you.

Habitual negativity is a problem because it can quickly become your trademark and overshadow any accomplishments. And in a tough job market, when workers are feeling stressed and employers consider trimming headcount, you don’t want to be remembered for being the local sourpuss based on what you do and say.

“In this recession, people are having to do more with less — that’s just a fact,” Milligan says. “If you’re the employee that complains about clients or the workload or the commute or the manager — and you seek out opportunities to talk about your misery, this will definitely pose a problem with your employer and co-workers.” Just as damaging can be your tendency to arrive late and leave early.

Helen T. Cooke is the marketing director of Cooke Consulting Group, where she coaches and teaches clients about team development. She agrees that behaviour, especially how we act, will impact others’ perceptions of us.

“The nonverbals will always prevail if we’re trying to mask negativity. For example, the employee makes a comment that sounds OK but the facial expressions and/ or body language make it clear that she or he isn’t on board,” Cooke explains. “If you are not feeling enthusiastic in general, consider what is within your control primarily and secondarily, what is within your ability to influence. Make positive changes in those two arenas.”

In your quest to compensate for a lack of enthusiasm, you don’t need to become the resident cheerleader, either. Your boss will probably sense insincerity if she tells you to report at 7 a.m. tomorrow morning for a meeting and you react with a cheer of approval. Learn to say, “Sure,” without emitting a long sigh as you walk away.

Remember, people do talk
Everything you do shouldn’t be dictated by other peoples’ opinions, but when you work in a group environment, you can’t ignore their influence on your career either. If every smile you flash to the boss morphs into a disgruntled rant to a co-worker, word of your attitude will get around. Some bosses might dismiss it as gossip, but others will take it to heart.

According to Cooke, a manager who senses that negativity is permeating the workplace will likely address the issue, which could negatively impact the naysayer’s salary increase, bonus or chances for promotion.

“Management realizes that they can maximize their productivity and therefore their bottom line by cultivating a healthy, robust organizational culture,” Cooke says. “Negativity can poison the air in the workplace and create a downward spiral for the workers.  This is exactly what is not needed during already challenging times with the current state of the marketplace and the economy.”

Milligan agrees with Cooke, and points out that most bosses hearing about a negative attitude will distinguish between petty gossip and a sincere concern about morale.

“No one likes a tattle-tale, whether it’s in grade school or the workplace,” Milligan explains. “However, if an employee’s attitude is causing enough of a problem to where it needs to be addressed, than it becomes the manager’s job to properly deal with it. Sometimes managers aren’t in a position to witness negativity coming from their staff, which is why the motives of the ‘messenger’ must be taken into consideration. A good manager who is cued in to the team will certainly not want one person’s attitude affecting everyone else.”

Remember that not every aspect of a job will be fun and exciting. And sometimes you will want to roll your eyes when the boss isn’t looking, but make it an exception, not a habit. After all, you don’t want to be that person.

Anthony Balderrama researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.

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