If You Can’t Say Something Nice…

Your grandmother said it. So did your momma. If you have kids, you’ve probably said it, too.

If you can’t say something nice — say it with me — don’t say anything at all.

Contrary to popular belief, Mamaw wasn’t trying to teach you a valuable life lesson. She was just tired of hearing you and your sister bicker with each other. But the programming stuck and we all adopted the phrase as a way of staying out of trouble. And it worked. Keep your mouth shut and it’s hard to make anybody mad.

Fast forward a couple of decades. You’re a grown-up (or at least an adult) and you have to get up and go to work every day. Does the magic phrase still work?

Not really.

Because work isn’t about keeping your mouth shut so you don’t get in trouble. It’s about creating, contributing to, and building something that puts money in the business so the business can thrive and grow and put money in your pocket. To do that, you don’t just create, contribute to, and build a product. You also create, contribute to, and build a culture — hopefully a culture that’s full of positivity, energy, and a passion for excellence.

That kind of culture requires a certain kind of attitude. One that’s optimistic. One that’s encouraging. One that’s NOT NEGATIVE.

If you come to work in a snarly mood and you unload all of your negative thoughts and feelings on your co-workers, do you negatively affect them? Sure, that’s pretty obvious.

But what if you come to work in a snarly mood and choose to keep your mouth shut? Do you negatively affect your co-workers? YES, YES YOU DO. When you’re in a foul mood, it finds a way to ooze out of you, even when you don’t say anything. Oh, you might think you’re a pretty good actor, but people always know when things just ain’t right. And it likely affects how well you perform your work overall, even if you don’t interact with other people on those days.

Here’s another way to look at it:

When you’re grilling steak, even if you close the lid your neighbors can still smell the cow cookin’.¬†

I don’t mind telling you, I’m rather proud of that metaphor.

What to do when negativity strikes:

It happens to everybody, even the “happy people.” We all have bad days. We all experience negativity. It’s natural. So what do you do when it strikes you? How do you turn it around? Here are a couple of ideas:

1. Identify the cause. Did you fight with your spouse or kids before work? Did you get a speeding ticket on your way in? Are you dreading your workload? Do you drop the ball on something? Sometimes we’re ticked off and we forgot the reason why. Identifying the cause can help you separate the negativity of the past from what’s happening in the present.

2. Take ownership. Notice the common word in the first few sentences in #1 above. It’s YOU. That doesn’t mean that you’re the cause, but whatever is causing you to be negative needs you in the equation to be effective. That also means you’re at least part of the solution.

3. Ask yourself the QBQthe Question Behind the Question. In John G. Miller’s classic book, QBQ, he encourages us to ask empowering questions instead of blaming questions. For instance, instead of asking “Why do my kids always make me late to work?” we can ask “What can I do to make sure my kids are ready for school earlier?” The QBQ is always about what I can do. Personal accountability — if there was such a thing as a magic bullet to eliminate negativity, this would be it. Heck, it would solve almost every problem in life.

4. “Break” it off. Take a break, even if you just arrived at work. Walk around the block. Do some breathing exercises. Close the door and meditate. Read something inspirational or funny. Create space between the cause of the negativity and the rest of your day. Do something to intentionally shift your state, physically and emotionally.

5. Seek out someone positive. The best way to become and stay positive is to hang around with positive people. The last thing you want to do is strike up a conversation with a known negativity-monger in your office. Talking to that person when you’re already feeling negative is like snapping off the cap of an oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. It could take months to recover from the damage.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure your grandma had good intentions (besides just trying to get some peace and quite) when she said the whole “If you can’t say something nice” thing. But good intentions don’t create better outcomes. Better action¬†creates better outcomes. So, if you start hearing grandma’s phrase in your head, try to finish it with something more empowering, like:

“If you can’t say something nice, figure out why and do something about it.”

P.S. If you struggle with negativity in your workplace and want to learn some powerful strategies to eliminate negativity and charge up the positivity, join me on June 14th in Columbus, OH, for our best-selling workshop, Creating A Positive Charge. >>More details here

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